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.