Thursday, April 30, 2009
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
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.