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.

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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.

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Faithfulness and Success

Just because can’t do it, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t pursue it.

…in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.  I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

Philippians 4:12-13

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

Romans 8:28

So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor.

I Corinthians 3:7-8

The willingness and effort to pursue that which glorifies God are mine to give or withhold. Success is God’s to give or withhold. My faithfulness does not demand God to grant success.  His success is not dependent on my faithfulness.

Faithfulness is how I respond to God’s love, it’s not how I earn my success.  I trust God for the right mix of success and failure to cause my life to reflect His Glory.

 

Getting What We Don’t Deserve and Can’t Earn…

A Muslim friend of mine tells me that in his faith, getting to heaven requires doing enough of the right things so that Allah is pleased enough to let you in. But he says there’s no way to know whether you’ve done enough to make it or not.cross-1149878_640

Some people think Christianity works the same way. Go to church often enough, be baptized, take communion, read the Bible, pray, do good things to help others — do enough of the right things and God will let you in. But the Bible is clear that it doesn’t work that way.

The Bible does teach good deeds are important, but not because they earn us credits toward heaven. Obedience to the things that please God should be our response to God’s love, not a way for us to earn it.

Consider this fictional story:

Jim and Jeff were twin brothers. Their lives were as parallel as any two lives could be. They went to church together, supported the church financially, served at a homeless shelter together, both served on the church music team, and were well-respected members of their community. They even died at the same time.

When Jim and Jeff stood before God’s judgment seat, Jim was welcomed into heaven and Jeff wasn’t. Why? Isn’t God fair in how He treats everyone?

I Samuel 16:7b tells us,

“…God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Jim and Jeff look the same to us, but God sees deeper than we do.

We see this illustrated in the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4. Both offered sacrifices to God, and it wasn’t because God preferred meat to vegetables that Abel’s sacrifice was accepted and Cain’s wasn’t. Hebrews 11:4 tells us that it was Abel’s faith (what he believed) that made the difference.

Consider Romans 10:9-10:

“if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.”

Nothing there about doing good deeds to be saved.

That’s really good news since none of us is capable of living a life that is good enough to meet God’s high standards. God is holy and perfect, we aren’t. Something had to be done if imperfect people are to live eternally in God’s holy presence.

God’s solution was to take the consequences of our sin upon himself. He came to earth as a man, Jesus, and lived a perfect life not worthy of death. Although He didn’t deserve it, He chose to die the death that we deserved. God sees us as cleansed by Jesus’ sacrifice.

Admission to heaven results from accepting that we can’t get there by our own effort — Only Jesus makes it possible for those who believe in Him. Jim believed it, Jeff didn’t.

Believe it and say so.

‘Twas the Night After Christmas…

Calling all poets (and wannabes): christmas-911251_1280
Add your own stanza(s) to this poem describing what Mary might have thought, felt, said, or done as she looked at her newborn son:

‘Twas the night after Christmas and all through the stable
Most creatures were sleeping, to the extent they were able.
The ox swished his tail at a pesky old fly
And the mice scurried ’round on the rafters up high.

Wind rattled the latch on the creaking barn door
And stirred up the dust from the straw on the floor.
Moonlight streamed in through a crack in the wall
And fell on the manger at the back of the stall.

Joseph was sleeping, his snores did attest,
Exhausted from multiple days without rest.
Tired though she was, Mary lay pondering;
About her son’s future and life she was wondering.

Slowly she rose, first sitting then standing,
Crossing the floor — the cold notwithstanding.
Wrapped in her blanket by the manger she knelt
Immersed in the wondrous new things that she felt.

“It really is true — I am now a mother;
And to this special child, this one like no other!
Will I be able to care for his needs?
Am I up to this task, to go where God leads?”

…you fill in the rest of her reflections…post your stanzas as replies here

God’s Supply Chain Problem

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?

1 John 3:16-17 (ESV)

We can read verses like that, or we can choose to live verses like that. And so it is that I’m writing this from an airport in the Middle East, awaiting the last leg of my flight to Iraq in a few hours. We have brothers & sisters in Iraq who have been forced from their homes, often with nothing but the shirts on their back because of their faith. Many have been slaughtered for refusing to denounce Jesus.

iraqmap_300Meanwhile, God has blessed American Christians with a wealth of resources. We mistakenly think God has blessed us so that we can live out our lives in safety and comfort (that’s how we like to define the “peace” God promises us). But even as God blessed Abraham and his offspring to be a blessing to all the families of the earth (Gen 28:14), God gives us our blessings so that we can pass them on to others. However, it seems God has a supply chain problem:  He manufactures the blessings and gives them to us to distribute, but we consume them for ourselves instead of passing them on.

Not everyone has the opportunity to go to Iraq (or other places where people are in need). Not everyone has financial resources to give. But everyone can pray, everyone can care, everyone can look for opportunities to meet needs in Jesus’ Name. As you intentionally seek to be used by God to meet needs, you’ll find no shortage of opportunities.

Take inventory of the blessings you’ve received and consider whether you’re part of God’s supply chain problem or are using those blessings for God’s glory by passing them on to others.

 

The Christmas Gift

A cross of wood made from a tree
Stood on a hill, one among three.
No glitt’ring balls nor twinkling lights
Just a Savior’s love shining bright.
Transformed by grace, now can it be?
The gift beneath the tree — is me.

Post-Christian France

IMG_0728I’ve sometimes had people ask why we send missionaries to Europe. Shouldn’t missionaries go to uncivilized places like Africa, Cambodia, and the jungles of South America? Well, yes, they should go to those places. But you’re just as likely to find people who don’t know who Jesus is in France.

Consider: In the 18th century, 95% of French people would have declared themselves Catholic, most of the rest Protestant. But in 1789, the French launched a program of de-Christianization that resulted in church property being confiscated, destruction of crosses and other signs of worship, instituting cults, killing priests, and celebrating the goddess, “Reason”.

IMG_0681Today’s French gods are individualism, hedonism, consumerism and other similar -isms. They reject anything having to do with the church, Christianity, or religion — these things are viewed as obviously incompatible with values like justice.

The current generation of French are over 200 years removed from Christianity in their culture, and the last vestiges of religion in their history were full of corruption, not the hope that we know comes from true relationships with the Living God.

So how do you restore hope and truth to this pessimistic, lost generation of Europeans? Theological debate won’t give you the credibility to open the door, let alone win the argument.  As Lesslie Newbigin said, “the only hermeneutic of the gospel is a congregation of men and women who believe it and live by it.” And so we plant churches in Europe.

I’ve met some amazing people this week, Americans and Europeans, who have IMG_0715dedicated their lives to being that hermeneutic of the gospel to the people of Europe. I’m inspired by their courage, creativity, and steadfastness in the face of incredible obstacles. It’s clear that God has not turned His back on Europeans even though so many of them have turned their back on Him. Progress is slow, but there is progress.

Europe is considered the materially richest continent in the world. Join us in praying that God brings a fresh wind of revival to make it spiritually rich!