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.