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.