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.


Friday, June 19, 2009

Intentional Ministry

During our Orientation, I got to know John and Kathy Hoover. They and their young family live in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Lancaster is a safe community. They pray in school. It’s common to see families gathered around, holding hands and praying in restaurants. It’s a very safe Christian environment, but John and Kathy Hoover are very unusual people.

I’m guessing that John is in his thirties, and he feels called to working and presenting the Gospel to people in rest homes. He was so impressed with his grandmother and the despair that she felt in a rest home that he wants to leave a safe, secure job at a bank, to raise his own support, and move to be able to spend the rest of his life working in rest homes. And not just in any place. The Hoovers decided they wanted to move to a place that did not have very many churches, that in fact was a fairly unreached community, and they picked Nashua, New Hampshire.

So John and Kathy are leaving the safe environment of Lancaster. They’re leaving their parents, who are close by now, and moving eight hours north in order to be what God calls them to be in an area that desperately needs a light, someone who will shine for Jesus.

Hats off to you, John and Kathy! You’re an example of incarnational ministry. You’re an example of intentionally living your life. We have a lot to learn from you, and I pray God’s blessing on your forthcoming move to Nashua.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Cross / Orientation

I’ve just spent the last week with our new class of missionaries, recruits who are just beginning to raise their support and focus their attention on the new mission field. These missionaries and missionary candidates have decided that they will serve the Lord in a very strategic and powerful way with American Missionary Fellowship. I was very, very impressed by the walk with God that these young families had. They seemed to want to be obedient; they seemed to really want to know what God had for them and be prepared for what lies ahead. I was amazed at how the group gelled together because they had a common interest in serving God.

The last night, we commissioned them. We had built a cross out of a tree on our property, and we had these young missionary recruits write all of their fears, all of their cares, all of their stresses, all of their anxieties, and all of their inadequacies on a card, and nail the cards to the cross. It was powerful to watch as they surrendered these things to the cross of Jesus Christ.

Those of us who were not candidates were board members or staff. We put on the cross another set of specially marked cards that had encouraging messages on them. They signified promises that our missionary candidates could claim that would counteract the cares they had put on the cross.

At the end of the night, I said to these candidates, “The challenge is being able to leave these things at the cross and not take them back with us, not to wallow in them each day instead of just leaving them where they need to be – in the hands of our Lord and Savior.”

What a night! What a night of turning to the cross! What a night of being able to leave behind those things that will keep us from being all that God wants us to be! What a great night of learning to give things to Jesus!


Saturday, June 13, 2009


I’m not happy with it or proud of it, but I am a card-carrying, Class 1 Worrier. I bite my fingernails; I worry about things. I am married to RobAnne, who is not a worrier. She is an even-keeled, level-headed person who takes things in stride. We’re built differently; we’re wired differently.

I read in Scripture (I Peter 5:7) that I am to cast my cares on Him because he cares for me, and I see the distance, the disconnect in my life, between what the Bible says and what I should be doing. I’m very worried about the coming days. We have a huge summit next week with the members of the executive team to work out what we need to do to weather these economic times. With a shrinking endowment and expanding benefits expenses, I worry. I worry that I cannot be the leader that God has called me to be. I worry that I cannot make the appropriate and right decisions to protect the promises we’ve made to our retired missionaries and to our field staff, to have the kind of resources necessary that they can take care of their families, which will enable them to do ministry.

Then I remember, “Cast your cares on Him because He cares for you.” The word cast is a verb; it’s active. It’s what we are to do every day. We cast our cares. We project our cares on our God, and He does not back up. He embraces them and carries us through.

It’s a good lesson for me, and I pray that those who read this blog will also learn the power of casting.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Good Shepherd

Our church is preaching through the Gospel of John. This Sunday we were in John 10, which is about the Good Shepherd and His sheep, and we learned about the sheep hearing His voice. In John 10:3-5, it says, “. . . He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out. When He has brought out all his own, He goes on ahead of them, and His sheep follow him because they know His voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger's voice" (NIV).

That’s an interesting concept, that Christ-followers know the voice of the Good Shepherd. It caused me to wonder when I last really heard His voice, and when I began to recognize the difference between His voice and other voices. It seems to be a core section of Scripture, a core value that we place on Christ-followers.

This Sunday was also Salsa Sunday at our church. After church we had a big Mexican fiesta. We had a mariachi band; we had a salsa contest. I was the emcee of that event. We have about 250-300 people who come to our church, so there was a lot of noise – a lot of people talking and having a good time, with mariachi music in the background. But it was interesting – above all of that, I recognized one voice. That was RobAnne’s. We’ve been married for thirty-five years, and I could hear her voice. I didn’t know she was around, but as I tuned my ears into the multiple conversations going on around me, I could distinctly understand RobAnne’s voice because I know her voice.

I must admit that what we learned in church and what I experienced with RobAnne’s voice made me more sensitive to opening my ears to the voice of God. That’s what I want for our mission: people who recognize and flee from the voice of the stranger and who understand and run to the voice of the Good Shepherd.


Friday, June 5, 2009

The Power of Transparency

Last week, our eight regional directors from all over the United States came to Villanova to discuss the future of the mission. The economic environment, the donation environment, has led us to where we need to make some hard decisions, as (like most organizations) we are having difficulty responding to reduced income.

What impressed me was that the more details we laid on the table, the more transparent we were, the more we said, “Here’s what we’re dealing with,” the more unity there was. There is a cancer in secrets and a freedom in transparency.

But that’s not even what impressed me the most. What impressed me the most was hearing each person’s life story. Each night one person shared, starting with his childhood and walking through to where he is now in ministry – not in three or four minutes, but sometimes a half-hour, forty-five minutes, even an hour. Every one of those testimonies involved tears, pain, and suffering. There was a transparency that took place as we shared our lives with one another, and the result of that was unity.

The result of simply being truthful and honest without pretext and without disguise was unity. I could feel it. I could sense it, even when we talked about difficult decisions we need to make.

I find it interesting that when Jesus entered a situation, people became transparent. When the disciples were unable to catch fish and they caught so many fish the boat was sinking, what did Peter do? He ran to the shore and fell at Jesus’ feet, saying, “Woe is me, a sinner!”

I would encourage our mission to quit whispering and telling secrets because there’s power in transparency. There’s something about when we’re in the light of the Spirit, the light of Jesus. When all our sinfulness, all our pretenses, and all our inability to be transparent suddenly become transparent, we find freedom and acceptance. It’s a great lesson for us all to learn.


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Future

Saturday night I was at a presentation for Youth Link, an AMF mission point in Paradise, Pennsylvania. Youth Link is an influential youth ministry in that area. I have written about its leaders, Sam and Tina Gordley, before. Sam is connected with the superintendent of schools, coaches, teachers, and churches. He’s the glue. He’s the one God seems to be using to reach that high school and junior high generation.

Sam is an amazing leader. He thinks about the future, not just the present. He thinks about building leadership skills and vision into his youth volunteers and his co-director, Ed Campagna. I wish you could have been there to hear Ed articulate the vision, purpose, and procedures of Youth Link. It was electrifying. That night I didn’t see Sam, the leader. I saw Sam, the delegator, the discipler, the mentor, speaking through Ed. Sam understands clearly what succession is about. He understands that he’s building the future.

At the pre-meeting for this presentation, which was made up of high school students, Sam asked for volunteers to mop up the floors, pick up the chairs, and take care of the tables. He actually had to choose which students to pick because so many of his people wanted to help.

Sam and Tina offer a tremendous amount to the students of that area. One of the things they offer is a model of what a great marriage is about. Tina stood up at the meeting and almost apologized for not being involved enough. She felt like she, as the mother of three rambunctious boys, needed to spend more time with them and get them to bed at a decent hour. But, she said, “I sneak away after they are in bed, and I get to interact with some of the students.”

The Gordleys model marriage. They model a marriage that these young people in high school and junior high will remember when they get married. They’ll think about Sam and Tina and say, “That’s what marriage is about. That’s what a Christ-centered marriage is about.”

I say hats off to Sam and Tina Gordley and hats off to Youth Link. They understand what it means to build into the future.


Saturday, May 30, 2009

Royal Liverpool Golf Club at Hoylake

My father taught me how to play golf when I was five years old. Almost every Saturday of my growing-up years, he and I would do our chores in the morning and then go play golf at noon at Redford Golf Course in Detroit. I still love to play golf.

One of the benefits of being able to travel in different parts of the world is having the opportunity to play some really cool golf courses. Royal Liverpool is one of them. Tiger Woods won his last British Open at Royal Liverpool in 2006. I went simply to buy a sweater from the club, and to my surprise, I was able to play.

I started late in the afternoon. The sun does not go down until 10:30 or 11:00 at night in England, so there was plenty of time to play. The golf course was deserted; I was by myself. It was one of those golden moments with the blue sky and an incredible golf course and memories of the British Open. When I got to the eleventh tee, I found myself enormously emotional. In fact, I had to sit down. I cried. I couldn’t really understand why; I couldn’t figure out what it was that made me do that.

Then I realized – I wanted to call my dad. I wanted to call my dad and tell him where I was playing; I wanted to share this experience with him. I desperately wanted him to be part of my life. My dad died on December 30. I don’t have very many emotional moments, but every now and then one sneaks up on me, like that moment on the eleventh tee.

I began to think about that experience, and I wondered, Why is it that we don’t have that same desire to share powerful experiences with our Lord? I have decided to be more deliberate about living in an open relationship with our heavenly Father and cultivating a desire to share my life with Him in the way I want to share it with my earthly father.


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Power of Forgiveness

In our mission are people who have prodigal kids. As I’ve traveled around this spring, I’ve seen the heartache these parents experience over their families – sons who are on drugs, daughters who are leading dangerous lifestyles that are difficult to watch. To these parents, I offer the story of one of my close friends:

Ten years ago, my friend had a difficult conversation with his daughter and her husband that did not go well. The conversation became caustic and ended with ten years of silence. He did not receive an email, a text message, a phone call, a Christmas card, or anything for ten years. He was totally cut off from a relationship with his daughter and son-in-law.

My friend is a Christian leader. He loves God, and he understands the power of forgiveness. He did what he could to keep the lines of communication open – he wrote her letters and tried to get in touch with her through third parties – but to no avail. Despite the silence, he continued to pray and ask God to open up that door of communication some way, somehow.

Well, last Thursday he got his first email. His other daughter is getting married, and she wants her sister to come to the wedding. They decided to meet after the wedding to begin talking and working toward reconciliation.


Friday, May 22, 2009

Capernwray Hall

This week I am in the northwestern part of England, by the Lake District, lecturing in Capernwray Hall. Capernwray Hall is a manor house – or, as we would call it, a castle – that has housed a Bible school since the middle of the last century. It was purchased by Major Ian Thomas for the purpose of educating students about the supremacy of Jesus Christ. It has a rich history; many of the people I come in contact with were students here at Capernwray. It is a nine-month Bible school, and the administrators bring in lecturers from all over the world to teach these Bible students.

You might call these 150 students from all over the world “in-betweeners.” There are students who are between university and their careers. There are some who have tried a career for several years and decided that they wanted or needed more Bible knowledge, and so they are here. There are people who are between high school and college. They’re in between different life events, but the one common value of these 150 students from all over the world is that if God calls them to do something, they’re ready, willing, and able to do it. They’re not encumbered by mortgages, car payments, debt, and all sorts of things. They’re ready, and they’re willing, and they’re able.

I’m here for two reasons. One is to teach them about life skills. My thirteen lectures are on life management, using the gifts that God has given to us. But I’m also here because these are the students that we need on our mission – young students who have passion and enthusiasm for Christ. They do things differently; they express things differently from what we’re used to. They desire to talk about their relationship with Jesus in terms that we’re not very familiar with.

When I’m here, I sense the incredible gift that God has given these students to do anything that He calls them to do, any time, at any place. That’s not a bad lesson for us all.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Seven Things I Know about American Missionary Fellowship

I’ve just completed two months of visiting as many area fellowships (small group gatherings for our mission) as possible – sometimes two a weekend. I’ve seen a lot of people, talked to them, heard their stories, and heard about their ministries. I’ve spent some time listening to their hurts and their dreams and also their frustrations. After meeting these people, there are seven things I know about our mission:

One: There is no doubt about it – our people love God. They want to serve Him, and they want to see revival come in America. They want to know that they are part of what God is doing to restore the spiritual vitality of the people in our nation.

Two: They are faithful. I have spent time with missionaries who have been in ministry with AMF for over forty years. They have seen good times and bad times, strong financial times and weak financial times, and they clearly say to me, “God is faithful. He will take care of us, as He’s always taken care of the mission. What we need is strong spiritual leadership to help us understand what God wants us to do.”

Three: We as a mission need to provide more value to our missionaries. It’s been clear to me that over the past years, the value that an individual missionary receives from the Home Office has been eroded. I’m not just talking benefit packages or increased resources that are required; I’m talking about spiritual leadership – fellowship, a sense of common purpose. We need to provide more value.

Four: Everyone in our mission wants our mission to grow. We understand that our mission is older with a lot of mature Christians, but everyone I come in contact with desperately wants us to reach the next generation. That’s high on our agenda.

Five: We are stuck. We’re stuck not because of our lack of ability or our desire to grow, but something has mired us in the mud. It might be not knowing what our common purpose is, or struggling with territorialism, or not staying up with the current ministry trends. We need to get unstuck and begin to move forward again.

Six: Our strength is our diversity, and our weakness is also our diversity. Because we are a unique collection of individuals strongly committed to doing what God has called us to do, we embrace – in fact, we enjoy – our diversity. Rural and urban ministry, ministry to the rich and ministry to the very poor, ministry to children and ministry to older people, ministry to the incarcerated and ministry to the free – we have strength in our diversity. That diversity is also our weakness because our reason for being is a little out of focus.

Seven: We are committed to change. We are committed to the idea that we need to think through why and how God has called us to do ministry. I know of no one in our mission who is resistant to change. How we do that is going to be the real challenge.

It’s been a great few months. I’ve met a lot of great people. I look forward to what God’s going to do in the future.


Friday, May 15, 2009

The National Day of Prayer

I’ve always struggled as the leader of an organization with what to do with the Day of Prayer: Do we hold a corporate meeting? Do we encourage people to attend meetings at their own churches or other meetings that are in their area? But I felt impressed this year with the idea that all the missionaries, staff, and those who are concerned with the mission of American Missionary Fellowship should gather together at the same time and pray about the same things.

So I wrote a prayer guide, and at 10:00 EST on the Day of Prayer, May 7, all who were able joined together – alone – and worked through this three-page document, confessing our souls, declaring our dependence, and seeking God’s guidance. The most amazing thing that happened as I was praying was to understand that we were doing this together, that all across the country there were people who were coming to the Lord with their needs, with their hopes, with their sins, and with their inadequacies.

The last four minutes of the hour we spent together, I asked people to do nothing but sit and listen. What was God saying to us? What was God speaking into our lives? And then I asked them to email me responses as to what God was saying, to see if there was a pattern or trend, if we might get a corporate answer to what God wants for us.

I was not prepared for the fifty-nine responses. Some were too personal to share, as God really convicted some people, and some had felt that God was instructing us as a mission along certain areas that needed to be changed. But the overwhelming sense was that God was drawing all of us more toward Him. He wanted us to turn our eyes toward Him; He wanted us to embrace Who He is instead of working at what we do. It was a sense of peace, shalom, so to speak, that our God was speaking into our hearts.

It was powerful to read those. Probably in my twenty-five years of running nonprofits, this Day of Prayer was the most significant, and what was amazing was that we did it alone together. I hope to have another one very soon.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Collins Group

It all started out as a fun deal: six couples plus RobAnne and I decided to get together one May and pray for the upcoming summer. We were all involved in camping ministries, and we were so busy doing the work, we thought we needed time just to rest our souls and be together with people who understood the issues and the challenges of running a camp.

We called ourselves the Collins Group because we met at the Collins Lodge, a bed and breakfast at Forest Home. There was an immediate bond between these seven couples, despite different ages, different sized ministries, and different perspectives on what a camp should be. We’ve met for nine years now, and we no longer talk about camp. We spend two nights and three days together, and we just talk about our souls – we talk about our kids, our fears, our insecurities. We’re able to cry together and be together in a powerful way.

I know I’ve heard other people talk about groups like this, but I have one. And it’s so refreshing not to have to pretend to be something we’re not – not to have to lead, not to have to be perfect or have all the answers. It’s a group where we can listen, and we can question, and we can pray together. Usually we meet as couples, but on the morning of the second day, we split up guys and girls. It’s powerful just to be with brothers who want to listen – not condemn, not give answers, but just listen.

If I could give a gift to the missionaries on our field, I would give the gift of a group like Collins – a group of good people trying to serve a living Lord.


Friday, May 8, 2009

Wisconsin Area Fellowship

I spent this past Saturday in Wisconsin at an area fellowship with Brett and Cindy Belleque and some of their people in Region One. What a ball! What a fun group of people to be around!

I was particularly drawn by two people. One of the first couples to connect with me was Bob and Gale Romig. Bob has been around the mission for a while – twenty years or so – and had a lot of good insight. I enjoyed listening to him. But what intrigued me was his ministry. He’s a clown! And he uses the clown and the activities of this clown to present the Gospel in a creative and powerful way to children.

If that wasn’t wild enough and crazy enough, Gale looks like a soccer mom! She looks like anything but a clown. And then I found out that the two of them clown around together. And then I began to think about how creative and wild it is that God can use any talent we have to accomplish His good and perfect will – even clowning. It was great.

I was even more impressed with Cindy Belleque. She played the piano, and she cooked, but she’s a great mom. I was watching her with her children. I watched how she interacted with them, the balance between being a mom and being a help to her husband. The Belleques have a special-needs child, and I was blown away by how well they care for their son. They’re good people.

I then began to think about all of the spouses in our mission who serve the Lord without a lot of flash and without a lot of public exposure. There are a lot of Cindys around. They may be the backbone of our mission. They keep the ministry going because of their organizational skills and their service.

Hats off to clowns and spouses who serve in the background!


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Announcements at Church

RobAnne and I are helping start a church in Beaumont, California, called Sanctuary. It’s really fun. There are no full-time paid people. We have a few part-time people in children’s ministry and music ministry, but for the most part, it’s just a bunch of laypeople trying to reach a community for Christ.

We’re almost two years old, and we have about 300 people who come to the church. It’s very southern California – the music is loud, we use lots of graphics and visuals and videos, and the printed material is very contemporary and really well done.

My job as one of the volunteer teaching pastors is to preach about once a month. (Our senior pastor is a dentist in the community.) When I’m not preaching, I give the announcements. I love to give the announcements. I think announcements ought to be fun, so we have a good time. I get people laughing, and we enjoy one another, and we talk to one another.

Sunday morning we had lots of announcements – a women’s tea, Bible studies, prayer groups, a ministry to the sick, and even a seminar to learn how to study the Bible – lots and lots of announcements. It was a lot of fun; I enjoyed informing the people of what they could do as part of our church.

But at the end of the announcements I talked about how, with all the things we offer and all the events you can go to, that’s not church. Church is not a building; it’s not activities; it’s not a program. It’s a relationship – a relationship with Jesus and, therefore, a relationship with His family. His brothers and sisters are our brothers and sisters.

Sometimes we get confused and think if we just attend enough events and do enough ministry, we certainly must be involved in the church. I think that’s wrong. Church isn’t in activity; church is in relationships.

Then I began to think about the people in our mission. I wonder how many of us are involved in church – not with leading a church, not with ministering in a church, but in being part of a group of believers who are our equals, who care for us and speak into our lives and spend time helping us grow in Christ.

That’s what I love about our church – we’re beginning to build relationships with each other. If I could do anything to Sanctuary, it would be to keep us from being an activities/performance-based church and become a fellowship of brothers and sisters who are traveling together towards heaven on a journey of learning how to walk with our Lord.


Thursday, April 30, 2009

Ed Snyder and John Schrader

Last Tuesday I got to go out to lunch with two ninety-year-old men. Their names are Ed and John. They served for many years on the Board of Managers of American Missionary Fellowship. They were so delightful to be with! They had served the mission well, building many relationships with missionaries, with the ministry, and with each other.

We were there to talk about the business of the ministry, but they really only wanted to talk about what God was doing – how many kids have met Christ, how many people know the Savior because of the ministry. They wanted to tell me the stories of the board members and how they worked through some of the difficult challenges of years gone by. They kidded one another; they joked with one another. John was the legal counsel for the ministry. He related several times when he felt God had led him and directed him to make decisions simply because He was in tune with Christ.

When I left the Radnor Hotel after having lunch with Ed and John, I felt like I had been with people who understand our mission, who love Jesus and were part of our history, part of our heritage. In fact, even more strongly, they are the mission because AMF is not a corporation; it’s not a business. It’s a group of people in fellowship with each other – missionaries, board members, staff people, donors, missionary candidates – all who want to see one thing happen: the winds of revival blow through America, with some of those winds originating in AMF.

I wish all of you could have been at that lunch with Ed and John. They are great men of God who have a tremendous history and have not forgotten AMF and our purpose to reach America.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009


RobAnne and I have an eighteen-year-old daughter. Her name is Barrett. She’s a wonderful student and a wonderful daughter. This last weekend she was in the school musical, Once Upon a Mattress. It’s the story of “The Princess and the Pea,” a marvelous fairytale.

Barrett was one of the musicians in the chorus. She has many talents, but singing and dancing are not on the top of her list. Yet, she loves being part of a theatrical production. What amazed me was that when Barrett was on stage as part of the chorus, she was all I watched. I didn’t watch the leads; I didn’t see the set; I only saw her. I watched her every move – how she moved across the stage, how she interacted with her fellow actors.

It reminded me of the time when our son, R.W., who is now twenty-two, was in preschool and we bought our very first video camera. I filmed the Christmas play, and when I got home, we had to laugh because the only thing I had filmed was him. It was like nothing else was going on; my focus was on him.

It made me think about how much God loves me, and how much he’s interested in the details of my life. While I know that God is concerned about all the issues facing our planet – He didn’t die just for me, but for all of mankind –every once in a while it’s nice to know that God’s focus is on me. With all the other activities going on, all the drama of life, all the performances around us, God’s eye is on me.

This focus is not a harshly critical one, as many of us imagine. I remember singing in Sunday school, "Be careful, little eyes, what you see / be careful, little eyes, what you see / for the Father up above is looking down in love.” It was almost like God was just waiting for us to make a mistake with our eyes and our activities. I think that’s why we have a Savior to rescue us from sin. But God’s loving concern is focused on us – on me – and that makes my problems seem very small.

God’s focus on every detail of my life is a marvelous thing to think about. It’s my prayer that AMF would be full of people who help other people understand that God has His loving attention – his focus – on each one of us


Friday, April 24, 2009


I spent last Friday and Saturday at Camp Galilee, one of our AMF camps, with our missionaries who serve in the Southeast Region. What a diverse collection of ministers! What a unique way that God has brought people together under the banner of American Missionary Fellowship!

There are the Lowders. They live in a little rural town in Kentucky, where they present the Gospel to public-school children.

Then there’s Betty Glover. She’s retired, but for forty years she worked in the “hollers.” She talks like she worked in the hollers. For someone from southern California, I found it kind of refreshing.

There are Joey and Darlena Ferguson, who live in West Virginia. They led the singing. We sang songs in a way that I’d never sung them before, but God was just as much there as in our worship services in California.

There was also Bob Carvajal from New Orleans, whose house was flooded out in Katrina. He has a call-in radio program where he answers questions about the Gospel. He loves children, and he wants to take kids from the inner city of New Orleans on foreign missions trips. He works in a different culture from the Lowders and Fergusons, but he fits there.

There was Brian Efferding. He and his wife, Lucia, live near Boca Raton, Florida. Their son, Jeremy, just got invited to play on the Junior Davis Cup team. The Efferdings work with inner-city kids, and at the same time they use Jeremy’s incredible talent and ability in tennis to reach a very wealthy group of people in Boca Raton, Florida.

All of these missionaries and their area fellowship are led by Mike and Mary Pinkerton. They just love everyone. Culture doesn’t matter to them.

With all this diversity and almost contradictory cultural baggage, we’re all about Jesus. Jesus is the common denominator. Whether it’s playing tennis, or broadcasting a radio program, or working in a public school, or pastoring a church, or running Camp Galilee (an oasis!), AMF embraces different cultures as part of what we do.

I spent an hour and a half answering questions on Saturday morning. Then I asked the missionaries, “What do you want to tell me? What do I need to know to be a good leader for you in AMF?” Almost in unison, they said, “Embrace our diversity. Don’t make us into something we’re not. We’re doing what God has called us to do with our giftedness, with our culture, and with who we are.”

You bet that’s what I want to do! I believe that AMF is one of the few missions that embraces people’s individual giftedness and allows them to express it in a way that’s powerful.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

AMF: We’re All about Kids

I spent most of my time this past weekend working with and enjoying the company of missionaries at their area fellowships, but something interesting happened on my way from southern California to Knoxville. On United Flight 6552 from Denver to Knoxville, one of those really little planes where you hardly have room to sit without annoying the person next to you, I had been upgraded to first class (compliments of United Airlines). I was comfortably sitting in my first-class seat when a lady with a fairly minor disability boarded and began making a big scene about where she was seated.

I, frankly, just wanted to get to Knoxville, so I gave her my first-class seat and took her seat back in coach. I settled in. There was an empty seat next to me; I thought, This is going to be a great flight! I’ll be able to get some work done and get some rest.

Then I found out that there were not enough oxygen masks on one side of the plane for mothers with lap-held children, so they had to move a mother with her infant and her son to the side of the plane where I was sitting and put me in a seat next to a large man. I wasn’t happy, but what made it even worse was that in five consecutive rows were four infants and three kids under the age of two. I quickly decided it would be a very difficult flight.

As it turned out, I had a ball. I got to hold the babies; I got to play with the kids. I had a twenty-month-old boy named Noah on my lap for most of the flight. We played games on my iPhone. We played I Spy. I so much enjoyed the time.

Noah’s mom’s name was Lindy. I came to find out that Lindy spent time volunteering and actually working for Young Life in Colorado. She loves the Lord, and she goes to a group called MOPS. I had a great time just being with her and helping her. When she got off the plane, she said, “You know, the Lord arranged all that.”

I started out with a first-class seat, gave up two seats, and ended up sitting next to a mom who needed help. Then I spent the weekend with missionaries who work with children all the time, and they began to tell me stories about how God arranges their ministry. It just drove home the point again to me: we’re about kids. We’re about presenting the cross of Jesus Christ to this generation of young people who are just children now.

I’m excited about what we’re doing and about how God taught me that lesson on United Flight 6552.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

If These Walls Could Talk

Last Tuesday I spent my day in Portland, Oregon. I visited a couple of our little churches there. One of them was called Woodland Park Chapel. Arnold Motz, the pastor, has been there for years. His father, I was told, also was the pastor of the church. It’s not very big, and it hasn’t been remodeled in years, but anyone who walks into that building experiences some history. Lives have been changed, the Word has been taught, and a clear understanding of the cross of Jesus Christ has been shared.

It’s not a megachurch. You won’t hear about it on the radio; it wouldn’t make the Top 100 churches in Christianity Today. But that’s not important.

Alan Baumgarden, who was showing me around, pointed to the back pew and said, “It’s in this pew that…,”telling me a story about a man who accepted Christ as His Savior in that very pew. I began to think, What if these walls could talk? What if these walls could tell us about the different people who came broken, received the truth proclaimed through God’s Word, and went away to change the world?

There are a lot of Woodland Park Chapels in AMF. They’re not big or flashy. They’re just solid. I’m glad I’m part of a mission that has such a rich history and such a great future.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Church of the Resurrection, Wheaton, Illinois

Saturday night my family went to the Great Easter Vigil at the Church of the Resurrection in Wheaton, Illinois. It’s a four-hour service. It starts with the Ceremony of Light. Then the story of redemption is told, starting with creation and ending with the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Baptism and communion follow.

It was an amazing service. This was my third year of being there, and I’m taken aback by the liturgy. For those of you who grew up in a high church background, what I’m about to say is old news to you, but for those of us who grew up without thinking through the church calendar and the rich history of the liturgy, it’s like drinking from a fresh pond of God’s grace.

What really struck me was when the baptism came and the baptismal candidates were asked to recite the baptismal vows. They’re powerful, and the rector explained that these are ancient vows. In the first four vows, the candidates are asked to renounce certain things:

Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?
I renounce them.

Do you renounce the evil powers of this world, which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?
I renounce them.

Do you renounce all the sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?
I renounce them.

It’s powerful. Renouncing things just has not been part of my church history. We affirm things. We declare things. We proclaim things. We don’t renounce things. Our own sinfulness, when we do renounce things, becomes so apparent. Yet, on Saturday, I found myself renouncing again the power of the evil one against whom Christ stands.

At the very end of the service, when we’d spent at least an hour singing our hearts out, ringing bells, and celebrating the resurrected Lord, we were asked to extend our hands toward the cross on the platform and proclaim several things:

The celebrant would say, “All our problems of our life on this earth…”
And we would say, “We send to the cross of Christ.”

The celebrant would say, “All the difficulties of our circumstances…”
And we would say, “We send to the cross of Christ.”

The celebrant would say, “All the devil’s works from his temporary power…”
And we, with our hands to the cross, would say, ““We send to the cross of Christ.”

When I think about all that’s weighing on me, all the pressures of trying to run the mission – to try to make sense financially, to try to make sense sociologically, to try to give us focus and vision and dreams – it is not always easy to extend my hands and say, “I give them to the cross of Christ. I send them to the cross of Christ.”

I pray that we will learn how to renounce and that we will learn how to send things to the cross of Christ.


Thursday, April 9, 2009

Better to know the Planner than the plan

There are a lot of tough times right now. The economy is stretching our donors. Our expenses are increasing because people have to raise prices to make a living. I’ve had to spend a lot of time thinking about numbers – spreadsheets, balance sheets, profit and loss statements.

I’ve also spent a lot of time in the last few months trying to get our staff working within their passions, giving them the ability to make decisions and control their world so that they are not just coming to work; they are living to be what God has called them to be. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about our purpose, our reason for being, our focus.

We’re developing a strategic plan to help us through these strategic times. But something has bothered me. Something is missing. It seems to me that we can rely so much on the upturn in the economy in our strategic plan that we forget that God is in charge. We forget that we’re not owners of our ministry. We may be shareholders and have a serious stake in what goes on, but we work for the owner, and the owner is God.

I was reading this morning from the Confessions of St. Augustine. There’s a section that really stuck out to me. As you read through this, think about our current economic times:

After all, who is better placed-the person who owns a tree and gives You thanks for all the good things it provides; or the one who owns a similar tree and knows its weight and dimensions down to the least leaf, but does not realize that You are its Creator and that it is through You that he or she has the use of it? In essence, the latter person is ignorant, though full of facts, and the former person wise, though a bit short on details.

So in general we can say that the most important knowledge is knowledge of You, O Lord. A person who has that, as Paul said, "possesses nothing yet owns everything." We may not know the course of the [stars] through the sky, we may not be able to analyze chemical elements nor measure continents, but we can know You, our Creator and God, who plots the courses of the stars, creates the elements and shapes the land and sky and sea.
Better to know the Planner than the Plan.

I believe that our mission (and Ridge) need to be focused on understanding the Planner, not just the plan. And when we know Him and hear His voice and we abide in Christ, the Planner, the plan becomes obvious. I encourage – no, implore –our mission to focus on the Planner.


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Holy Week

It’s Holy Week, when we celebrate the central event of our faith – the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Holy Week starts with the Triumphal Entry, the palm branches being spread as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the King of the Jews , the Messiah, enters Jerusalem. We walk through the week, coming to Maundy Thursday and then Good Friday.

What’s good about Good Friday? It’s the day that Jesus, a sinless man, was crucified without a fair trial because there was no evidence against Him. What’s good about the death day of an innocent person who saved many, who gave sight to the blind, who gave mobility to those who could not walk, who called people to Himself and raised people from the dead? What’s good about it is that without it we can’t have salvation.

And then Easter Sunday comes, when He is risen, when the tomb is empty, and the central event of our faith has become the central truth of our faith. Jesus conquered death, and He revealed without any doubt He is the Lord, and He is our King!

We can learn a lot from high-church liturgy. The theology of the Holy Week is told year after year after year through the Book of Common Worship and the Book of Common Prayer. This liturgy helps us understand the pain of this week.

I can’t wait for Sunday morning when we can celebrate as Christ-followers. He is risen!


Friday, April 3, 2009


I want to tell you about three AMF women who are all-stars for different reasons:

Last weekend I was at the AMF camp conference in Nebraska. I had come in from a long flight, and I sat down with a group of ladies. One of them, Marie Parker, was having a great time with her friend. I was overwhelmed by their enthusiasm and their joking. It was just too much; it was like drinking from a fire hose.

I wanted to spend more time with Marie, so the next day, I found her and got to know her a little better. Her family runs a camp. She does much of the cooking and the recruiting – she is a hard, hard worker. Looking into her eyes, I saw an incredible enthusiasm for her ministry and for what God is calling her to do. I thought, I want us all to be like Marie, who has a fire in her eyes to reach people for Christ.

The second star is our PR manager, Andrea Graver, who takes her job very seriously. In a few months we will be sending out our annual report, which is in a different format this year. I’ve given Andrea free reign to be as creative as she’d like to tell the story of what God is doing at AMF.

One day I got a phone call from her, expressing how excited she was that she had found the perfect paper for the project to be printed on. She had prayed that God would lead her to the right paper and that she would sense when she found it. When she did, she actually cried. She was delighted that God gave her this one little bit of the project; that detail reminded her God was with her.

I’m so glad we have people like Andrea who pray about little things, who sense God leading them to the type of paper to have for our annual report. Few people who get the annual report a few months from now will notice the paper, but Andrea will because she knows that God is concerned about the little things.

The third all-star is our IT person, Lisa French. We’ve been having a horrible time with our computer systems and software, but I’m always amazed that she’ll talk about what God has called her to do or mention a piece of Scripture that has given her hope and encouragement during down times. She sometimes asks me theological questions. She loves Jesus and is inquisitive about how Jesus is part of our office and the IT Department. She’s excited about serving our Lord in details I would never dream of.

My mentor, Bob Broaddus, once asked me, “Ridge, how good would you be if no one else showed up?” He was simply reminding me of the biblical mandate that we are to be members of the body of Christ; by doing what we are called to do we raise up our living Lord, and we build each other up in our faith. These three all-stars, working behind the scenes, are all doing what God has called them to do. That’s what I want for everyone in our mission.


Tuesday, March 31, 2009


“How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1, NIV)

I just had a good week at the Home Office. It’s so much fun to watch a group of people committed to a common purpose relating to each other well and enjoying their jobs. I am beginning to see the staff come together as a team and know there is unity because I see five things happening:

1. Honesty – There’s a sense that we can honestly share with each other our shortcomings, our joys, and our opinions. I’m so thankful that we are able to be completely open with each other.

2. Dialogue – I love a team where everyone has an equal voice, where everyone is able to share without fear of retribution or of not having their opinions taken seriously. We don’t always need to agree; we do need to have an open dialogue.

3. Laughter – Sitting in my office on the first floor of our headquarters, I loved hearing the sound of laughter coming from a group of people in the hallway. There’s something about laughter that brings us to unity.

4. Value – I think unity displays everyone’s value. We appreciate each other, and we recognize not only the value of others’ opinions but also the value of who we are in Christ.

5. Talking about spiritual things – I can feel it when we pray together; I can feel it in staff devotions. There’s a sense that we are coming together in unity.

It is my hope that we will experience these signs of unity throughout our entire mission because we have Jesus bringing us together: “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 15:5-6, NIV)


Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Ethnic Workers’ Summit, Phoenix, Arizona

It’s amazing to me how big God is! On Saturday I went to the Ethnic Workers’ Summit at Scottsdale Bible Church. We had about twenty of our missionary families there, and I really enjoyed the fellowship. With our missionaries we have such great people. I was impressed with Jeff and Julie Shackelford’s desire to bring more people into the mission. I was absolutely blown away by the ministry of Bill and Barbara Fair down in Colorado, how they use their skills to mentor people into the kingdom.

What really impressed me about the conference overall was that every time someone prayed, he prayed in his native language. I don’t know why it always impresses me that God does not speak English only. He knows the different ways to communicate. Language is not a barrier to Him. I’m so glad for that.

I happened to be at the conference on Native American Day. I learned about poverty on the Native American reservations. I learned how God is raising up a group of people who want to serve that population. I also learned something about perspective. The Native Americans approach God in an entirely different way than the Asian community would, or the Buddhist community, or the Muslim community. They express their faith differently. The missionaries who work with them talk about the Gospel in different terms, but they all point back to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, who died and was resurrected and is coming again.

Sunday I preached from John 3, and I was impressed again by what Jesus says to Nicodemus about the Spirit: The wind will blow where it wants to and does not choose who it should touch, but anyone who is in the way of the wind will experience this new perspective (vs. 8). Jesus encouraged Nicodemus to think about his faith differently. The Ethnic Workers’ Summit forced me to do the same because of the different perspectives represented there.

We have a lot to be proud of, a lot to be thankful for, but let’s not box ourselves into one way of doing things or limit what God can do. Among all the ethnicities of the conference, it’s easy to see that God’s going to do what He wants to do in the way He wants to do it with whom He wants to do it in spite of us. I hope that’s the spirit of our mission.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Last week, Robanne and I celebrated our 35th anniversary. It was great! I surprised her by renting a beach house in southern California, right on the sand, and flying in our son, R.W., who lives in Wheaton, Illinois. We just spent the week together as a family. We didn’t do much – just played games, watched TV, walked on the beach – but what I really enjoyed about the week was something intangible. It was the experience of family.

In my family Dad is always the brunt of jokes. Every wrong statement or every funny experience or miscommunication somehow becomes a laughing matter. I like the fact that my family jokes about me and teases me. I also like that we show love through physical affection. Every now and then during the week, we all just stood up and had a great big family hug.

I find love in my family. I find acceptance. I find a place of sanctuary.

What a marvelous picture of what God wants for our ministry and for our lives – a place where accounts are held short, where love takes place, and moreover, where I feel that I can just be me. My encouragement to our mission family is that you take your family seriously. I was talking to someone this week who runs a camp, and she described herself as a “camp widow.” Her husband is always away on camp business.

If your ministry is in the way of your being a family, I would encourage you to reevaluate your priorities. Family ought to be a place where you experience connection. It is my prayer that our families and our mission family will be that.


Friday, March 20, 2009

A Spirit of Fear

There’s no question that we’re in tough times. Businesses are failing, restaurants are closing, the stock market is struggling, churches are hurting financially, and non-profits like ours are wondering, Where do we go and how do we navigate these deep economic waters? I’m disturbed, as I have just gone through a stack of crisis letters from good Christian organizations. They’re afraid of the future; they’re imagining they’re in crises.

What bothers me about that mail is it seems like people are making decisions based on fear. They’re afraid of what’s going to happen, so they make widespread decisions that are really rooted in a deep-seated fear of the future. The Bible is clear about a spirit of fear – 2 Timothy 1:7 says, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and of love and a sound mind” (NKJV). It seems to me that in these times, it is important for us to remember that not only is God in control, but He calls us to have a spirit of love with power. We need to think through these decisions based on a firm and deep understanding that God will walk us through these times.

At AMF we have some challenges, like every other organization does. Our missionaries, who raise support, have challenges like many other missionaries do. There’s no question we will have to make difficult decisions in the coming days – that’s good stewardship – but those decisions are not going to be made through a spirit of fear. They will be made with appropriate and right thinking applied with a spirit of faith and trust and belief.

I’ve watched a number of our neighbors struggle with the housing market here in southern California. They’ve seen all of their equity disappear, and in many cases they owe more than their house is worth. They wonder, Can I just hang on? Can I just make it through? My hope and my prayer is that I will be an agent to help them understand what Isaiah 41:10 says: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (NIV).

Man, that’s what I want – not a spirit of fear, but a sense that we are being held in the very hand of God.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Clearing the Temple

I preached at our church Sunday morning. I was assigned the passage from John 2 about Jesus clearing the temple. It’s a difficult passage to preach in these tough economic times, but I was impressed about three things:

One, God seeks out our sin to clean it out. He is not tolerant or passive with evil in our personal lives or our organizational lives. When Jesus enters our life, He changes the paradigm so that sin becomes sin and is no longer acceptable.

Secondly, I learned that God uses people, not buildings. The Jews asked Him, “What gives you the authority to do this?” (John 2:18) He responded, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” (vs. 19, NASV) The disciples didn’t get that He was referring to His body until the resurrection, but it’s clear to us now. Our own bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. (I Corinthians 6:19)

Sometimes we rely too heavily on institutions and not enough on what God is doing through His people. That’s what’s important, that God works through people. I would suggest that as a mission, when we think about how to relate to each other as group of Christ-followers, we need to remember that all the things we do are not important. Who we are is important – we’re back to being, not doing – because God wants His people to be a temple that He resides in; that residency of Christ allows us to experience the fullness of life.

And finally, I was really impressed and convicted that God rejects those who resist inward change. He says in John 2, the last two verses, that He rejected the people observing Him because He knew what was in their hearts; He knew them. I am convicted that God knows me. He knows the times that I deceive even myself about my unrighteousness, but He’s not fooled. I don’t want to be rejected. I want to be loved by this incredible God, but it will require me to take sin seriously.


Thursday, March 12, 2009

Being Vs. Doing

While I was at the area fellowship in San Antonio last week, I began to look at AMF’s reporting structure. We ask missionaries to report their time in service or preparation, the number of miles they drive, how many meetings they attend, and so forth. As I looked at these requirements, it dawned on me that what we’re measuring is doing, as if doing is what God calls us to do.

I don’t believe God calls us to a lot of activity; He calls us to abide in Him. Being is more important than doing. That doesn’t mean we should be lazy, just sitting around and being monastic in our faith, but I believe that before we do all these activities, we ought to make sure that who we are, deep down where no one sees us, is right and pure and true to what God calls us to be.

John Perkins once said, “You gotta be before you do.” The whole concept of performance-based Christianity, a faith measured by what we do, is part of what I call the American consumerist view of Christianity. I think it’s important that we witness and that we are involved in ministry, but let’s not substitute a relationship of abiding in Christ with a life of doing. At AMF it’s more important that we be before we do.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Gate 16, San Antonio Airport

I had a great time in San Antonio with Tim Hoffman and his area fellowship, but the event of this past weekend took place as I was leaving the city. I got to the San Antonio Airport early, around 6:00 a.m. I was at Gate 16, doing work and reading the newspaper as I waited for United Flight 6253, when a well-dressed family of four showed up.

The younger child, a boy about four years old, was a special-needs child. This boy was a hug machine. He stood in the busy corridor, hugging anyone and everyone. He came over, hugged me, left a big glob of his doughnut on the leg of my pants, and then ran off to hug three or four other people. His mom and dad, of course, were a little embarrassed. They would chase him down and bring him back, only for him to run off to find other people to hug.

It wasn’t very long in a very crowded corridor before this enthusiastic hugger came across someone very unlike himself. A young man in his 20s, dressed in gang attire, came walking down the hallway, bobbing to the beat of the music he heard through a huge pair of headphones. He wore a Raiders jersey, a hat turned backwards, lots of tattoos, and several piercings; I wondered what would happen when this gang banger met the hug machine.

Sure enough, knowing no fear, the little boy ran up to the young man and gave him a big hug. I was watching with interest from five feet away, wondering what would happen. The gang banger got down on one knee, returned the boy’s big hug, and put his earphones the boy’s head. The two danced together for about thirty seconds, until the boy’s mother came to take him away.

Could it be that Christ wants us to love like that little boy? Unconstrained by biases, by the boxes adults often put people into, he treated everyone equally. Where I saw a bored businessman, an alert mother, or an unapproachable gang banger, he saw nothing but a person who needed love. He didn’t care how people dressed, what they looked like, or what their background was. Scripture says that we look at a person’s outside; God looks at his heart (I Samuel 16:7). When we look beyond an image, we will find someone who needs to be loved.

I learned a lot at Gate 16 of the San Antonio airport.


Friday, March 6, 2009

Mt. Gilead

Last week I visited Mt. Gilead, a camp in northern California that has room for about 300 kids. While seeing how the staff ministers to men, women, boys, and girls in the area, I learned seven things that we can apply to all of our ministries:

1. The staff at Mt. Gilead has a passion for the people they serve. They do everything possible to give campers the best week of their lives so they can make the best decision of their lives. Whether using skateboard parks, climbing walls, pools, or whatever it takes, the goal is reaching kids for Christ. That goal, that passion, is contagious.

2. The staff is a team working together. As the food service staff, the housekeeping staff, the registration people, the secretaries, the maintenance guys all came and told their stories, we could clearly see how much they loved one another. They keep short accounts with each other so that nothing hinders their ability to work together as they reach others for Jesus Christ.

3. They use volunteer power creatively. Through a program called MAPP, a group of retired people is building bridges and decks and making all kinds of improvements at the camp. Mt. Gilead has learned that people need to be involved and want to be connected through the use of their hands and their skill sets.

4. They use money wisely. I had Paul Neal, one of the trustees of AMF, with me. As we drove out of camp, he said, “They get a lot of bang for their buck out of their budget.” He and I were impressed with the cost-effectiveness and the use of God’s money at Mt. Gilead.

5. They have a clear vision for the future. They want to expand not only the physical part of the camp but the impact of the camp by reaching different ethnic groups and reaching different types of people with creative and new methods. Vision is part of Mt. Gilead.

6. The camp has a history. It is Mt. Gilead, a place to which people return to remember the decisions that they made. It’s a place where they go when they understand and rekindle their relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ.

7. The camp is part of AMF. The staff understands connection. David Gould, the camp’s director, understands that the local camp and the national organization are working as a team, and they are working with the area missionaries who bring kids to camp to have a life-changing experience.

I am so proud to be a part of what God is doing at Mt. Gilead.


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Look at This Picture!

Joy Bible Camp just held its first winter camp. It was an incredible weekend, during which a group of teenagers who don’t normally fit together began to form a unit. They came to camp from different races and ethnic backgrounds, from good homes and troubled homes, and from different high school crowds, but they left camp with new friendships and a new understanding of Christ. This picture was taken in one of the dorms during the retreat; I can’t look at it without thinking of the students’ very different stories and the way camp brought them together.

“Life is better at camp,” wrote one teen on a survey taken during the weekend. Another talked about what the group had learned in chapel: “"We should choose great friends; we need them." Something about camp breaks down walls, removes the distractions of everyday life, and allows kids to focus on what’s really important: who Jesus is and how He impacts our lives. There is undoubtedly a power in camp, a power in residential ministry that only kids can really experience.

Take a look at that counselor in the middle of this photo. He is so proud of what has happened during the weekend. He probably is glad that it’s all over and he can get some sleep, but he’s poured his life into these guys. He’s spent the weekend listening to them, playing volleyball and air hockey with them, and sharing meals with them – not so that he can get his picture made, but so that these guys can see a real-life example of Jesus.

Camp is obviously fun. It’s powerful. Look at the kid on the bottom bunk behind the counselor. He’s got a bandanna wrapped around his head. Only at camp would the peer pressure of looking great be removed so a kid can walk around with a bandanna on his head! At camp there’s unity, there’s joy, there’s peace, and for some of these kids, it’s the only time in their lives they can feel loved. It’s the only time in their lives when they will feel that someone cares about them…at camp.

I’m so proud that AMF is involved in over fifty camps around the United States and is bringing these kinds of experiences to young people so that they can know the reality of who Jesus is.


Thursday, February 26, 2009

Philadelphia Flyers

Last Saturday, I went to my second Philadelphia Flyers game, during which they played their interstate rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins. Everyone in the place was dressed in orange, and no one – nobody – would dare stand up and root for the Penguins. I saw four- and five-year-old kids with their hair dyed orange and old ladies dressed in Flyers jerseys. The fans were going all out to cheer for a sports team, who (by the way) lost 5 to 4. I was amazed by the commitment, the enthusiasm, the obvious show of whose side the fans were on.

I grew up in Detroit. I love the Detroit Redwings, Pistons, Tigers, and even the hapless Lions. (I still predict that within a few years we will see the Detroit Lions playing in the Superbowl.) But my support for Detroit teams is nothing like the love Philadelphia fans have for the Flyers.

The game led my thoughts to our commitment to Christ and our displays of “Christ-follower colors.” We might not want to be as obnoxious as some of the Flyers fans who were in the stadium, but maybe it’s time we quit being stealth believers. Maybe it’s time we quit being so silent and begin to think how we make ourselves obvious as Christ-followers.

Jesus was clear that it is our love for each other, for our neighbors, and for our God that sets us apart (John 13:35). There was no love for the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Wachovia Center last Saturday, but there was a commitment to the Flyers. Sometimes I feel like there is no love for each other in the body of Christ, but if we have a commitment to Jesus, we need to love each other (1 John 4:20). I wonder what would happen if we displayed our colors as clearly as what I saw last Saturday and peppered our commitment to Christ with incredible love for each other, for our neighbors, and for those we come in contact with.

This Detroit fan learned a lesson from the Philadelphia Flyers.