I Was a Stranger and You Took Me In…

20140207_195000568_iOSI was recently asked to write an article on immigration for GraceConnect Magazine.  Click the link and scroll down to page 12 to read it…

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What Does God Think of Luxury?

It wasn’t the venue you would expect for a week-long meeting of 50+ missionaries and their families. The pampering started as we sat and sipped lemonade while checking in. Our hotel room view overlooking one of the many pools and the Mediterranean Sea was breathtaking. The buffet meals were reminiscent of a cruise ship.

I wonder what your emotional response is to that kind of luxury? Arriving in Cyprus, I can tell you I went through a range of responses:

  • Envy — Why can’t I live like this all the time!
  • Guilt — Here I am consuming all these luxuries while there are people struggling for food and water.
  • Judgment — People who live like this are so self-centered!

So what does God think of such luxury? We all know Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell everything he had and give to the poor (Luke 18:22).  But that wasn’t his response to every rich person He met. Both Jesus and Paul had wealthy benefactors who supported their ministries (Luke 8:3, Rom 16:2). Not to mention Abraham, David, Solomon, Job, and other godly men who had wealth.  Scripture teaches that riches are from God (1 Chr 20:12, Prov 8:18), and He is the one who gives us the ability to earn wealth (Deut 8:18).

There are serious problems with the “prosperity gospel” taught by some, but the problem isn’t wealth itself. The problem is giving wealth (or anything else) a place in our lives where it doesn’t belong. When we seek first our own pleasures or easy life rather than God’s pleasure, or we put our trust in wealth instead of God, we have displaced Jesus from his rightful place.

The Bible provides many warnings against the struggles that come with wealth, but those warnings don’t equate to wealth being bad any more than warnings against inappropriate sex make sex bad. Seeking poverty or self-denial for its own sake can be as much of an idol as wealth.

The backstory on the missionaries spending a week at a luxury resort sheds some light. This gathering was originally scheduled for a more modest facility, but the owners decided to close it for renovation. So they honored the contract by switching to a different, albeit more upscale facility.  The cost was less than I’ve paid to stay at a Best Western. So this was a God-orchestrated upgrade.

Which brings me to the point. God delights in bringing pleasure and joy to His people. But He loves us too much to let us get spoiled by such things. When God arranges to bless us — even with material things — the right way to receive it is with joy and gratitude to God. Give Him the pleasure of seeing us enjoy it. Don’t ruin His pleasure with our envy, guilt, and judgmental attitudes.

The team from our church was there to serve these missionaries during their week of rest, renewal, and reconnection. Our greatest blessing was the joy of serving, not the luxury. But we accepted God’s pampering with gratitude.

Choices

I’ve been thinking a lot about choices lately. Not so much  the “big” choices in life: Who do I marry? Do I take that job? Should I buy that house? We usually put a lot of thought and prayer into those choices, seeking counsel from those we trust.

But what about the little choices? The kind we make dozens, even hundreds of times a day. Our responses to these are habit, they reflect our heart — and they change our heart. I’m convinced the accumulation of these little choices has a bigger impact on our lives than the few really big ones.

God created us with a free will, i.e. the ability to make decisions — to choose. Consider, what is love but the choice to put someone else’s interests ahead of our own.  What is worship but the choice to do what pleases God rather than what pleases me. In giving us the ability to make choices, God delegated to us a limited ability to demonstrate His character in us by choosing to care about someone other than ourselves.

We also know that God considers the motivations of our hearts as more important than our actions. Our actions matter, but only because they reflect what’s in our heart. Consider Jeremiah 17:10:

“I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.

God looks at our hearts and minds to determine how he will reward our deeds. Or 1 Samuel 16:7b:

For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.

Again, it’s our heart, not the things we see that God is paying attention to.  So how do we make our hearts pleasing to God?

We start making choices that please Him.  As we exercise our free-will muscle to make loving, worshipful choices instead of self-centered choices, that muscle gets stronger in its ability to please God.

Consider these familiar scriptures:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.    Philippians 2:3-4 (ESV)

Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.     1 Corinthians 10:24 (ESV)

You can also look up 1 John 3:16-18 and Matthew 16:24 to see the theme continue.

When does God expect us to apply these biblical instructions? Only in our occasional big choices, or in the multiple-times-a-day choices?

So here’s the question I’ve been challenging myself with:

If I was a fanatic about considering others more important than myself, what would I do differently everyday?

Here are just a few answers:

  • Leave the closest parking space for someone else
  • Show grace when others err
  • Don’t recline the airplane seat into the person behind me
  • Give others the best seats
  • Tip big

Making those kinds of choices multiple times a day changes us.

Post your answers to that challenge here…

Ministering to the Ministers

Note: I admit to feeling a little self-conscious about presenting this ministry opportunity to you for two reasons:  1) I’ve already asked for your support for two disaster response trips in the past two months, and there are conversations in the works that may result in more after the first of the year for either Texas or Puerto Rico. 2) In terms of self-sacrifice and comfort, this trip is about as far removed from disaster response as you can get!  But if you’ve read my blog about the Ministry of Asking, you’ll know I have a conviction about giving others the opportunity to participate in my ministry endeavors. Just know that my conviction about asking doesn’t obligate anyone to give — follow your heart and give when you can give joyfully…

What follows is our team’s support letter. 

Ministering to the Ministers

Imagine having the opportunity to give a gift to fifty missionaries (plus their 26 children) who serve on two continents.  What would you give?

Capture Map

How about a week of “Re’s”?  Refreshment. Restoration.  Relaxation.  Relationship.  Rest.  Renewal.

Grace Church of Orange has the opportunity to participate in making that gift a reality.  A team of ten of us will be heading to the island of Cyprus to host the Encompass Family Reunion on January 2-8, 2018. This event will bring together Encompass World Partners missionary families serving in Europe and Africa.  We will be providing a worship team, devotionals, and child care to help make this a care-free, energizing experience for those who serve so diligently on foreign soil.

This trip is a little unusual, since our purpose is not to engage directly with those who don’t know about or haven’t recognized God’s love for them.  But we’re convinced that this investment to care for those who spend years serving in difficult circumstances will reap big benefits for the Kingdom of God.

team.png
The Sciarras and the Weisenbergers

Mike and Angela are especially excited because five of their kids (including daughter-in-law, Taylor) get to go on this trip with them.

Alan and Kerri look forward to their youngest daughter joining the team from her home less than 300 miles from Cyprus. At the end of the trip, they’ll route their way home through her city to spend a few days with her there.

The total cost to send this team is $17,000.  See the box below for instructions on how to participate with us financially.  Whether you choose to give or not, we still ask that you remember us in prayer as we prepare for and engage in this ministry.

A NOTE FROM GRACE CHURCH OF ORANGE: We appreciate your financial support of our short-term mission projects.  You can give online to this project at:

https://graceorange.churchcenteronline.com/giving/to/3100-cyprus-2018

or by check payable to Grace Church of Orange and send it to 2201 E. Fairhaven Ave. Orange, CA 92869.  On the memo line of your check, please specify that your donation is for Cyprus. Be aware that IRS regulations do not permit tax deductible donations for specific individuals, so indicating a person’s name may affect the deductibility of your donations.  (Please check with your tax advisor.)  If you would like for the person to know about your donation, you may include a note with your name on it.  If for any reason your donation is not needed for this project, (such as more funds received beyond what is needed), it will be applied to other missions efforts.  If you give $250 or more you will receive a statement of your donations in January of the following year.  Please contact the church office at 714-633-8867 if you have any questions.

How To Handle Criticism

This tribute to Tim Keller is an excerpt from Scott Sauls’ new book, From Weakness to Strength: 8 Vulnerabilities That Can Bring Out the Best in Your Leadership.  Published by David C. Cook.

Finally, Tim could receive criticism, most of which came from the outside and was almost always unfair, and it would bring out the best in him rather than bringing out the worst in him. By his words and example, he taught me that getting defensive about criticism rarely, if ever, leads to healthy outcomes. He also taught me that our critics, including the ones who mischaracterize and falsely accuse us as pastors, can sometimes be God’s instruments to teach and humble us as persons. In Tim’s words from one of my favorite essays of his:

 First, you should look to see if there is a kernel of truth in even the most exaggerated and unfair broadsides…So even if the censure is partly or even largely mistaken, look for what you may indeed have done wrong. Perhaps you simply acted or spoke in a way that was not circumspect. Maybe the critic is partly right for the wrong reasons. Nevertheless, identify your own shortcomings, repent in your own heart before the Lord for what you can, and let that humble you. It will then be possible to learn from the criticism and stay gracious to the critic even if you have to disagree with what he or she has said.

If the criticism comes from someone who doesn’t know you at all [and often this is the case on the internet] it is possible that the criticism is completely unwarranted and profoundly mistaken. I am often pilloried not only for views I do have, but also even more often for views [and motives] that I do not hold at all. When that happens it is even easier to fall into a smugness and perhaps be tempted to laugh at how mistaken your critics are. “Pathetic…” you may be tempted to say. Don’t do it. Even if there is not the slightest kernel of truth in what the critic says, you should not mock them in your thoughts. First, remind yourself of examples of your own mistakes, foolishness, and cluelessness in the past, times in which you really got something wrong. Second, pray for the critic, that he or she grows in grace.

Hurricane Harvey, Part II

Mike’s house was flooded to the roof line. The weight of the wet insulation collapsed the ceiling, but the stuff in his attic was mostly dry. Coming in by boat and docking at his roof, he removed a sheet of tin roofing, climbed into his attic and rescued the “guns & gittars” (Mike’s a true Texan!) that he had tucked into the attic for safety. 

Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in Vidor, Texas is a small church that is having a huge impact on the economically challenged residents of their community. While Pastor Skipper and several other flooded-out members of this church are living in trailers on the church property, they’re distributing food, water, cleaning supplies, and other needed items to their neighbors. The church is so full of goods to distribute they don’t have room to hold Sunday services.  Hope Force provided our 60′ x 100′ tent to serve as a warehouse for the next few months so they can regain use of the church building.  Erecting this tent was our main project during my last few days in Texas.

These are just two of the projects we worked on last week.  Once again, it’s been your prayers and financial support that have made it possible for us to to share the love of Christ with those in need.

Mike worked along side us at his house for two days. He repeatedly expressed puzzlement over why we would volunteer to serve people like him in this way.  On our third and final day at his house, he had to return to work.  When we left, we placed a New Testament signed by the team in the middle of his cleaned-out living room for him to find.  I left a bookmark in it with I John 3:16-18 highlighted:

By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.

1 John 3:16-18 (NKJV)

 

 

Eye of the Storm

I’ve only been home from Texas for a few days, but I’m getting ready to head back for another week. Hope Force has asked me to return October 12 – 19 to relieve the team leader in place until then. So I guess my time at home right now is like being in the eye of the storm.  Hmmm…aren’t things supposed to be calm in the eye of the storm? I think I need a new metaphor…

The most common question I’m asked is how the flooding in Texas compares to what I’ve seen elsewhere. I could compare number of homes flooded, water depth, or other data points. But when you’re dealing one-on-one with people whose lives have been impacted, the dramatic numbers don’t mean much.  Every disaster is personal to each survivor, no matter how many other survivors there are.

Before…
After…(same room, different angle)

I know from past experience that I’ll soon get over the nagging thoughts about the needs I saw but couldn’t meet for various reasons.  That’s the hard part about coming home. I have to remember that God calls me to faithfully serve, not to be a superhero. What I can’t do serves as a reminder that, as a team member reminded us in a devotional one morning, “It’s not about me.

But the blessing that comes with this service is seeing the transformation in many homeowners between the start of a job and the end. On the Texas coast, where many people have been flooded before (often two or three times), some  start out pretty matter-of-fact about what they have to do again. Others are at the end of their rope and don’t think they can take any more (in one case, borderline suicidal). No matter where they’re at on that spectrum, when our work is done they have an increased sense that things are (or at least, might be) looking up. The most important thing we’re giving them isn’t a cleaned out house; it’s hope.

During the last two weeks we saw four homeowners indicate that if the love we’ve shown them is our response to the love God has shown us, they want to know our God. As I said before this trip (quoting C.S. Lewis), “pain is the megaphone God uses to speak to a deaf world.” These four people are examples of how that megaphone works.

Thank you again for your prayers and financial support for this work!

A NOTE FROM GRACE CHURCH OF ORANGE:   We appreciate your financial support of our short-term mission projects.  You can give online to this project at:

https://graceorange.churchcenteronline.com/giving/to/3100-AlanW-Disaster-Response

or by check payable to Grace Church of Orange and send it to 2201 E. Fairhaven Ave. Orange, CA 92869.  On the memo line of your check, please specify that your donation is for Disaster Response. Be aware that IRS regulations do not permit tax deductible donations for specific individuals, so indicating a person’s name may affect the deductibility of your donations.  (Please check with your tax advisor.)  If you would like for the person to know about your donation, you may include a note with your name on it.  If for any reason your donation is not needed for this project, (such as more funds received beyond what is needed), it will be applied to other missions efforts.  If you give $250 or more you will receive a statement of your donations in January of the following year.  Please contact the church office at 714-633-8867 if you have any questions.