"Brethren, pray for us" isn't a cliché. It's a heart-felt plea.
Our family has a basket on a shelf near our dining room table. It is filled with prayer cards that we've picked up from missionaries over the last decade or two. (Yes, a decade or two…) It also has some pictures of pastors that support us and family members or close friends who loved us enough to send us their Christmas card photos.
(Basically, if you send us your photo, you end up in our prayer basket. After writing this, I'm hoping for a new onslaught of Christmas photos from you all this year!)
But here's the problem with collecting these pictures and prayer cards over the course of almost two decades: we've lost touch with some of these people. Some of them we never knew to begin with, admittedly, because we attend a lot of churches and at each one, my children faithfully pick up prayer cards from all the missionaries they can. (And I have six children. And, like I said, we attend a lot of churches.) Also, some of their families have changed. They've added another child or two. They've retired. Some have had spouses pass away. Several that we know of have changed mission fields. Possibly, all of the above.
So how can we pray specifically for them if we don't know their specific prayer requests? If we don't even know their family that well? Or if we don't know where they are currently ministering?
1. Look them up online.
Social media is one possibility. But many missionaries also have a website these days. You are reading ours. It's getting easier all the time to set one up online, and you don't even need much in the way of technical skills. (If being techy was a requirement, our family wouldn't have one.) When you look them up, you can at least find out how many children they have and where they are currently located. Most missionaries don't post personal prayer requests online, for obvious reasons. But it's a good start.
2. Sign up for their prayer letter.
Often their prayer card has an email address on it. Depending on how old it is, it may or may not be current. But if it isn't, you can also run your request through their mission board, which is probably also on their prayer card. Missionaries won't put all of their prayer requests into their prayer letters, but you will at least get a feel for their publicly-stated needs.
But even if you never do either of those things, here is another possibility:
3. Pray Paul's 7 Scripture-based prayer requests for them.
Paul, in his NT epistles, gives seven specific prayer requests he wants the churches receiving his letters to pray for. These are exactly what missionaries, pastors, and your loved ones need prayer for too. In fact, these are often the basis of the prayer requests that missionaries won't feel comfortable sharing in detail. Missionaries have to be careful about sharing names of those they minister to, or specific details about their ministry. But these seven prayer requests will cover many of those details.
Download a printable poster of these Seven Gospel-Centric Prayer Requests.
We should all be praying for our fellow believers, whether they are our neighbors, church members, loved ones, or friends. We should also be praying for our pastor, our missionaries, and others who are on the front lines of ministry.
If you don't have your own prayer basket for your family, start filling one today. Begin by praying for your family members and pastoral staff. Slowly add other people you are burdened for. Consider printing the list of Paul's seven prayer requests and using it to pray specifically for other believers.
"Brethren, pray for us" isn't a cliché. It's a heart-felt plea.
We need to take it seriously.
Download this list of 7 Scripture-Based Prayer Requests
We have found this annual event is the most important factor in the success of any of our endeavors as a couple.
As a couple, my husband and I have worked hard at communication. That doesn't mean we have always succeeded; we have had our fair share of communication mishaps, like most couples, where we plumb forgot that we hadn't mentioned to our spouse that company was coming, or that we volunteered them for (fill in the blank), or that so-and-so was getting married.
However, when it comes to the basics of family life, we have managed pretty well. This, in spite of living increasingly busy lives filled with ministry, mission trips, hospitality, homeschooling, furloughs, and other travels.
And I can tell you exactly the reason why.
We call it our Annual Goal Planning Retreat. Once a year, usually in January, we put our lives on hold for 24 hours in order to get away as a couple for the explicit purpose of planning and prayer for the upcoming year.
During that 24 hour retreat, we hole up somewhere quiet and discuss all the issues that we face as a couple and as a family and plan ahead for everything that needs to happen that year and in the future upcoming years. We do both long-term and short-term planning, making individual, family, and ministry goals.
Since we started doing this, we haven't missed a year. We have found that this is the single most important factor for success in all of our ministry and family endeavors.
IS IT WORTH IT?
Years ago I worked at a major pharmaceutical company in America, and one of my responsibilities was to help my boss organize and run their Annual Business Planning Retreat. Employees flew in from all over America, taking valuable time out of their busy schedules, in order to gather at a conference center for a few days and plan the direction of the company for the next year. The cost of that week, both in time and money, was staggering. And yet, I have no doubt it was worth it.
When considering your Annual Goal Planning Retreat, you may wonder if it will be worth the cost in both time and money for you and your spouse. I can assure you that if you do this properly, your investment in this one day each year will be more than worth it.
Couples with young children, especially, may have trouble finding a babysitter and wrangling this time alone. Don't let that stop you. You probably need this more than anyone else! You who are so immersed in diapers and pacifiers often find it hard to poke your heads up for air and make time for your spouse or for life planning. It's easy for you, especially, to get lost in the trees and lose sight of the forest. The long-term welfare of your family can easily get drowned out by your short-term, sleep-deprived need to survive.
I understand. There have been years where the first thing on our agenda for our AGP Retreat was a good nap.
Maybe, on the other hand, you are empty nesters and don't feel a need to leave your home in order to find some time alone. You may find time alone while in your normal daily surroundings, but will it be distraction free? Investing in a one-night stay at a nearby hotel or bed and breakfast will ensure that your focus can remain on your spouse, God, and the necessary planning you need to do.
As a couple, the two of you are yoked together. In order to accomplish the work God has for you to do, you must be pulling at the same load, pulling at the same speed, and pulling in the same direction. Otherwise that yoke is just slowing you down and messing you up. This Annual Goal Planning Retreat will give you a vision, as a couple, for how you can help each other complete the work God has commissioned you to do. It will help you live with a shared mission, a shared ambition.
The twenty-four hours you spend with your spouse nailing down your goals and activities for the upcoming year will be an investment that pays dividends. Yes, it is worth it.
WHAT TO DO ON YOUR AGP RETREAT
Each couple will find their own rhythm when it comes to this retreat, but let me share some of the things we do.
THINGS TO DISCUSS ON YOUR AGP RETREAT
We each get our own list. This includes things like health and fitness, Bible reading, other personal reading goals, writing goals, and random stuff like taking online courses in modern Hebrew or Ugaritic. (Bonus points for you if you can guess which one of us wants to take the Ugaritic course.)
This includes all the things we want to do together as a family or want to incorporate into our parenting. We include Bible reading and memorization, reading out loud (we are currently working through the Sugar Creek Gang books), any specialized skills we want our children to learn, music lessons, and any specific homeschooling goals. We often discuss gift possibilities for the year because we are intentional in our gift giving for our children, always seeking gifts that promote their education, physical fitness, skills, or spiritual growth.
We sometimes discuss our financial situation or financial or budget-related goals that we wish to set. We take a look at the projects we are giving to, and what we might want to give to in the future. Sometimes we set goals about how we can increase our giving.
We have our ministry at BJMBC and all our goals associated with that, but this section also includes other ministry endeavors. We list any requests for us to speak or teach in other places in the Philippines or in other countries and the preparation we need to do for those events. We also try to prioritize our children's ministries, like their Children's Choir at church and the neighborhood Bible Club our children minister in. Often we try to plan for ministries of hospitality or small group gatherings of one sort or another.
This is exactly what it sounds like. Surprisingly, we usually have many miscellaneous goals. We are both life-long students, so there is much we want to learn and accomplish.
It seems like our prayer and discussion times often result in a family or ministry theme for the year. One year we were burdened about strengthening marriages and families. That informed our acceptance of speaking events. When we were asked to do two separate weekend events on two separate islands, we knew right away that the one we were supposed to accept was the one that would further our goal of strengthening Filipino families. God led clearly through the theme He had already given us.
That same year we also hosted small-group events at our house for couples from our church to gather and watch a DVD series on the topic of marriage.
Another year our burden was for encouraging believers to plan their lives God's way. This resulted in a book and a seminar that Tim has taught in many places.
I cannot overemphasize the power this retreat has had in pushing us forward in our goals.
RELATED: The Three-Part Goal Setting Series.
TAKE TIME FOR FUN!
We don't just work on this Annual Goal Planning Retreat. We also take time out to do some fun things together as a couple. Depending on where we are and what we have time for, we will play games, go on dates for meals, spend time doing a favorite activity such as swimming or hiking, or just go out for coffee and dessert.
This isn't just about work. It is about reconnecting as a couple and taking a break from the world in order to focus on each other. It should be the most romantic, wonderful day of your year as a couple. We find this is often the highlight of our year as a couple.
THE BENEFITS OF AN ANNUAL GOAL PLANNING RETREAT
Between you and me, this Annual Goal Planning Retreat has been one of the best investments we could have made in our marriage, our family, and our ministry. What are the benefits we have seen?
I'd like to encourage you to consider taking an Annual Goal Planning Retreat with your spouse. It will be life-changing for you as a couple, as you take the time to plan out your year and your future, examining your life from all angles and making both long-term and short-term goals.
My husband and I went to a hotel this Valentine's Day weekend.
With all of our children.
It would be illegal in the States to have that many bodies in one hotel room.
Here--no problem. The twins shared a pack 'n play. The hotel workers slid an extra queen size mattress onto the floor for two of our boys, and a third boy took the small couch. Our daughter shared a separate room with a short-term missionary who also went with us.
That may not appear romantic, but it is the stuff love is made of.
Why did we do this?
One of our goals this year has been to involve our children in ministry. So this weekend, in preparation for the evangelistic drama our college students would be doing at the church of a pastor-friend of ours, our family went there for the weekend as a team to pass out invitations and tracts and encourage people to attend. I'm not sure if our efforts brought in any or many extra bodies for the drama, but we were blessed as we went house to house visiting members and their neighbors and meeting people in the surrounding streets.
The church members themselves did a fantastic job of inviting people: the church was packed, the singing was contagiously happy, and the drama ended with a soul-searching message.
It was a joy, all around, to see the Lord work.
But, speaking of Valentines Day. . .
What are our presuppositions about romance?
Concerts? Flowers? Chocolates? Dinner out?
I did get flowers. My husband came home late Thursday night bearing a sheath of velvety red roses. And we did eat out on Valentines' Day (with a bunch of other people). And today, while ransacking the freezer, I discovered a dark chocolate bar that our recent Singaporean visitors gave us. Now I can include chocolate on my list of Valentine's weekend treats.
So I did get most of those things, just re-packaged for a family of eight.
What did love look like to you this Valentine's Weekend?
Maybe your spouse surprised you with a weekend at a Bed and Breakfast in your dream location. Praise the Lord for that, and rejoice. Build awesome memories.
Maybe, though, your life's circumstances didn't permit that. Maybe you had a weekend of dirty diapers. Sick kids. Maybe you shared a coffee because there was no money for a candlelight dinner.
Maybe your kisses in the kitchen were interrupted by teenagers asking for the keys to the car, or by boys skateboarding right between the two of you, or by little girls chanting, "Saw you kiss!"
Maybe your spouse is with the Lord, and you took out their picture and looked at it with tears in your eyes.
Maybe you are single, and longing to be married, and you spent your weekend avoiding the Hallmark card aisles at the grocery store.
You were not gypped.
You have a good God who loves you. Every other love comes from Him. He is the foundation of all loves. And you have His love. Forever and ever. Nobody and nothing can take it away from you.
Here is what the Bible says about that love:
For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
What Does Love Look Like?
As far as human love. . . it doesn't come pre-packaged to suit the current cultural romantic fantasies.
It isn't one-size-fits-all. Don't be jealous if your Valentine's Day didn't look like your best friend's Valentine's Day. You wouldn't want it that way. Love is tailor-made by a loving God for each of us. Love will look different to you than it does to me.
But this is what love looked like for my husband and I this weekend:
children, sprawled all over the hotel room;
singing together in church as a family;
walking the streets of a relocation village at dusk on a Sunday afternoon, talking to people about the Lord and inviting them to church;
visiting dear friends who will be leaders for the next generation of Christian Filipinos;
watching my children fearlessly pass out tracts;
listening to those same children argue the transcending benefits of boys vs. girls in an exuberant late-night gender war;
experiencing the beyond-generous hospitality of believers and friends;
seeing gifted college students give of their time, energy, and talents for the Lord's work;
meeting brothers and sisters in Christ who are being His light in a dark place;
and, of course,
the everyday, ordinary fun of a big family serving the Lord together.
It was more beautiful than a concert. Funnier than a rom-com chick-flick. More profound than a novel.
I'm full-up of love this Valentine's Day weekend.
Why did God say "No"?
Why, when He ordered you with Fatherly ferociousness to let your requests be made known unto Him, did He turn around and say no?
Why would a loving Father smash your hopes and dreams about the one thing you know would make you happy?
Dr. Tom is a man uniquely suited to missionary life in Cambodia. He has an obsession with sharing the Gospel and the medical skills necessary to garner a hearing in villages up and down the riverbanks and dirt roads of one of the world's poorest nations. Furthermore, in a country where you can step outside your kitchen door and find yourself face to face with a venomous viper poised to attack (as he has done), it is helpful if you have been a "snake handler" in a former life. Dr. Tom learned snakes early on. Before God sent him to Asia, he did school demonstrations about snakes.
So when one blistering morning in Cambodia opened with a shriek from the second story that heralded the presence of a snake (in the trashcan, of all places), Dr. Tom ran to his wife's rescue. It ended up being the snake's rescue. That snake had gotten a little too cozy with a baby diaper and the sticky fastener of the diaper had stuck to its scales. The poor thing was having a hard time wriggling across the floor with that heavy diaper attached.
Missionary life is full of humorous moments.
We were their short-termers for the summer. Since neither my husband nor Dr. Tom's wife were willing to help out with the surgical procedure necessary to separate diaper from snake, I happily volunteered.
You see, I have this strange quality: I like snakes. I like the way they squirm. I like the way they feel in my hands. I like their scaley, smooth sides. I think the way their little tongues go in and out is cute.
My husband hates them. He is far wiser than I am.
Truth be told, I only really like "safe snakes." I like snakes that I know are not poisonous, or snakes that I can handle without fear. I don't like a snake in the grass near my children's play area unless it is a teensy-tiny, science projecty, clearly non-poisonous one. Or a fake one made from clay.
And, no, I don't like snakes on my plate.
I wouldn't give my children a snake when they ask for fish for dinner. Would you?
Neither would God.
Jesus tells us that in Matthew 7:9-11: "Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?"
Children are foolish. In my last post I told a true tale about scissors and blood and small baby hands. Scissors are not a toy for babies. But they are a tremendous tool for those who have wisdom to use them wisely.
Which brings me to my second reason of why God may have said "no" to your object of desire: maybe it is not yet time. Maybe there is some maturing that needs to take place first.
Maybe you need to learn how to use the scissors.
Maybe God's answer wasn't "No." Maybe it was "Wait."
Trust your Father's wisdom. If He said "no," trust that when the red light finally becomes green, He has the sovereign ability to let you know.
Jim Elliot DID eventually get a green light to marry Elisabeth, although for a while there things seemed iffy. And that wait produced maturity in both of them and a book titled Passion and Purity. It also gave them both some independent time on their various mission fields and all the fruit and growth that can come with that (which then gave us the book These Strange Ashes).
Here is the goal: that we trust God to say "yes" or "no" or "wait." That we thank Him for red lights as well as green lights. Red lights prevent nasty crashes.
As I said in Part I, Sometimes We Ask For A Stone, God sees and knows all things. He knows what things are bread for us and what things are stones. He knows whether that is a fish we are asking for or a venomous viper.
He will not do you wrong.
Trust the heart of your Father.
MORE ABOUT GOD'S WILL:
My husband and I try to set goals every year.
We have been doing this for at least the last year.
Actually, we have done this before, but this year we took it a twist further. We actually (ssshhh. . . this is a secret!) READ THOSE GOALS EACH MONTH.
Yes, we do.
One of our goals is to read our goals. It is listed right there on our goals printout. Can I promise you that we have actually accomplished that goal for the first 9 months of this year? I can't remember, but I think we have come really close. I know this: some years I forget our goals by February. This year they are constantly on my mind. The result? We are not accomplishing all of them, no, but we have accomplished many.
Part of anyone's success with goals relates to how realistic and attainable they are. That is a subject for a different post. But a good part of that also relates to keeping them constantly in front of us.
Anyway, one of our goals for this year is to strengthen Christian marriages. After all, strong marriages make for strong families. Strong families will result in strong churches. And strong churches can change the landscape of a country!
So we decided this year to do something really big. We are renting the Araneta Coliseum and will be holding the first annual Metro Manila Christian Marriage Conference (MMCMC). Tim will be sharing some of his stunning insights on How To Be a Fabulous Husband, and I will follow him with a session on How To Love And Respect Your Fabulous Husband. We are splitting this 50/50 in an effort to show that "Marriages Take Two To Prosper." (That, by the way, is the title of our new book, which will be released in May, 2015.)
Here is a picture of our venue. We are hoping for a sell-out! Buy your tickets now at 1-800-MAR-IAGE.
By the way. . .
I really hope you didn't think I was serious.
There is no MMCMC. There is also no book. There isn't even a 1-800 number.
No. The reality is that we are holding weekly small group "Couples' Nights Out" at our house. We have 8 people plus us. That makes ten. Quite a difference from that stadium with the 10,000 seats. And Tim and I aren't speaking. We are using a set of DVDs that we have found very helpful.
Not very BIG of a thing, right?
Not something to plaster on the front of a newspaper.
Not something, hardly, to write home about.
But it is a big thing in God's eyes, and that is why we are doing it. And it is a success! (I know this because of the conversations we are having and the fact that we have to shoo people out our door just before midnight. Last Thursday night we were tempted to tell our guests, "Sige, we are going to bed. Have fun together and lock the door on your way out!") Everybody is enjoying these nights.
(If you are one of our guests and you are reading this, please know that we would be happy to have you stay until three o'clock, if you want to. Seriously. We love you guys and LOVE being with you! Just put another pot of coffee on and enjoy. Yaaawn. Oops! 'Scuse me.)
How many times do we think we have to do something BIG in order to accomplish something for the Lord? I grew up singing one of my dad's favorite songs, "Little Is Much If God Is In It." It is emblazoned on my brain that anything God asks me to do is big. . . to Him. I just need to be faithful.
And we all know that little things become BIG things when they are left undone.
For instance. . .
This is why smart mamas everywhere insist on doing the dishes immediately after the meal. That oatmeal that swishes right out of the pot at twenty minutes after 8:00 in the morning somehow morphs itself into a hardened gloppy monster by twenty minutes past 8:00 in the evening.
Okay, back to marriages. How many times have you watched a marriage fall apart and thought, if only I had. . . (done something).
How many fewer children would cry themselves to sleep at night? How many fewer divorces would litter the landscape of America? How many more family reunions would take place with 37 cousins all under the age of 16 running barefoot through the cornfields at dusk in the biggest, bestest hide-n-seek game ever? How many more watermelon-seed spitting contests? How many more happy memories for the next generation?
You see? Little things, if left undone, have big consequences.
And you can apply this to every area of your life.
Play a little game with your son.
Have a little chat with your daughter.
Give your husband a little kiss.
Clean that little bathroom.
Bake a little cake for a sick neighbor.
Pay a little credit card bill.
Be a little friendlier at the grocery store.
Have a little compassion for the beggar on the street.
Do a little witnessing for Christ at your workplace.
Use a little self-restraint at the dessert table.
I've mentioned before that the entire Bible is pertinent to our lives, even Zechariah. Zechariah 4:10 has something to say about this very idea of despising the "day of small things," and speaks of the eventual rejoicing that will result from these seemingly little things. Read it and see for yourself. This is especially pertinent when you are a mom of many small children, like me, and entire days can be made up of diapers, dishes, and dirty laundry.
Take the time to do something little today.
It is big to the Lord.
Most beautiful sight yesterday?
College students walking down the middle of the road in a clothes-drenching thunderstorm, huddled beneath rainbow-hued umbrellas, reading. . .
About Jesus Christ.
That beats Pinterest, folks, anytime!
I have to admit: it wasn't the most outwardly optimistic afternoon for an evangelistic outreach. When we drove onto the campus of the University of the Philippines, the sky was already hanging low and dark. It had been blistering hot and sunny all day. Not one of the nine of us had brought an umbrella.
By the time we pulled into the parking lot, thunder was rumbling. By the time we were officially parked, lightning was flashing above us.
The rain started then, first just a tiny splash or two on the windshield, but it quickly became a downpour. We stared out the windows at the watery world around us.
I was the most timid among the crew. "I think we should go home," I suggested.
But my husband had a crazy idea: "I'll pull up next to that covered sidewalk and someone can jump out and give tracts to all the people there!"
"Yes!" our Bible college students said.
"Yay!" our boys shouted. (Preteen boys don't see rain; they see a Divinely-installed sprinkler system.)
The thunder crinkled and crackled like fireworks popping.
I looked at the lightning streaking the sky. I looked at the metal over the sidewalk. I looked at the sheets of rain between here and there. And I felt a terrible disappointment.
I had awakened at sunrise and prayed for this moment. We had prayed before we left the house. We had prayed in the car, too. . . three times! So why all this rain?
But I have a husband who doesn't see storm clouds. He sees souls.
So we came up with an even better plan. One of our team members recommended going down a side road to a covered place with food stalls and there try to catch people who were stranded by the rain. We would have a captive audience.
It worked like a dream. My husband dropped us off where we could scurry from car to cover. Our three companions (one graduate and two students) almost immediately engaged people in gospel-driven conversations. My boys and I stood in the middle of a wind- and rain-swept sidewalk and passed out tracts. Eventually the rain diminished for awhile to a mere sprinkly annoyance and we moved to a nearby building.
There I saw an older man sitting on the stairs. I pointed him out to Tim. "I'll wait in the car so you can talk to him," I offered. So we swapped roles, and I became the de facto driver of our illegally parked car.
I watched him go over and sit down on the concrete steps beside the man. I watched Ian two steps above him: a college student sharing the gift of life with another college student. I watched my daughter and our two ladies, Donna and Shen, pass tracts to the college students as they walked past. And I watched secular university students walk down the middle of the road in the rain, reading about Jesus Christ.
And while I sat there and watched it all, I pondered a significant verse.
Ecclesiastes 11:4. He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap.
Because my husband and our evangelistic team refused to look at the clouds, we sowed. I have faith that we will reap also. Four people heard the gospel yesterday that wouldn't have if we had allowed foul weather to stop us. George and Chester, the two men on the stairs, were especially interested in the conversations and had many questions.
Later that night, I sat in church and listened to Ian give a testimony. He put the last piece in place for me when he pointed out God's sovereignty in the form of rain.
Chester, the art student he spoke with, was only there BECAUSE OF THE RAIN. He had gone there without an umbrella and thus had to wait for the Divinely-installed sprinkler system to stop before he could leave.
So I say to you: Don't look at the clouds!
Our circumstances may never look perfect, but God is working in the midst of them. Those un-optimistic looking circumstances may be the very tool God will use.
So go today and share the gift of eternal life with someone.
Sow. And reap.
Imagine your church has no walls. . .
To keep the animals out. So the dog wanders in and sits and scratches himself for awhile in the back of the room. The cat from next door slithers its way under the chairs, rubbing unexpectedly against your leg. A mouse got stranded under the communion table cloth and wants out. Every other alliterated point, he pokes his wiggly nose out to check on things and swiftly withdraws again. Maybe he smells the cat.
Imagine your church has no walls. . .
To keep your children in. You watch your children like a hawk when they play near the railing. You are four floors up and the railing bars are wide. Things happen.
Imagine your church has no walls. . .
To keep the noise out. And the church is on a main road. The preacher has to compete with the traffic four floors below. You know heat rises (boy, does it ever!), but you didn't realize noise rises too.
Imagine your church has no walls. . .
To keep the rain out. So everyone has to move away from the side (or the back) of the church when it rains. In the middle of the sermon. They just pick up their chairs and move.
Imagine your church has no walls. . .
To keep the heat out. So whatever temperature it is outside, it also is inside. And it is HOT outside.
Imagine your church has no walls. . .
To keep the air conditioning in. That's okay. There isn't any air conditioning anyway. Just fans. Lots of fans. The preacher has to compete with the traffic, and also with the fans.
Imagine your church has no walls. . .
To separate the different Sunday School classes. So you hang curtains from the rafters. The curtains billow in the breeze and flap against you while you listen to your Sunday School teacher. The curtains don't keep out the noises, only the sights. So the Sunday School teacher learns to compete with traffic noises, fan noises, and the noise of fifty children in four different age groups singing four different songs.
Imagine your church has no walls. . .
For a nursery. No softly padded floor. No crib, no toys, no swings. Just your arms. And the railing with the wide holes, of course! When your baby is tired or hungry, the Sunday School teacher has to compete with the traffic, the fans, the children singing on the other side of the curtain, and the baby crying in your arms.
Imagine your church has no walls. . .
To separate you from all the people outside. All that you do or say or sing is clearly seen and heard by those around you. Even if they weren't intending to attend church that morning, they were there. . . just outside your non-existent walls. Praise God!
Imagine your church has no walls. . .
To separate you from the great big huge needy hurting population outside. So you reach out your arms and invite them in. The poor ones, the rich ones, the tiny ones, the sick and hurting ones. The ones aching with sin. All the ones who need Christ so badly.
For some of you this is so normal that you wonder why I would even mention it.
. . . But there are others of you who can't wrap your minds around this. You sit in your padded pews with the air conditioning (or heat) keeping the sanctuary at a delightful predetermined temperature. Your babies are safely and happily playing in a fun, soft playroom. Your preacher wears a funny metal piece on the side of his face so that you can hear him even when he moves away from the pulpit. Your piano is protected from floods, heat, humidity, and mice, and thus churns out music fit for the heavenlies. You don't even know it is raining until you leave the building.
There is nothing wrong with that! That is a marvelous blessing! Do you appreciate it fully?
Walls can be wonderful, protecting things. In many parts of the world, walls are a necessity.
But sometimes walls also keep the people out. The very people you are trying to reach. They drive past your walls and wonder what you are doing in there. People, aching with sin, needing a Savior. You have the answer. But you have to invite them in to hear it. You have to go to them with the truth that will set them free.
Jesus preached on the mountainsides. He knew rain, heat, and cold. He reached people. His kingdom was not of this world, and He wasn't concerned about building walls. He was concerned about people.
Sometimes we are too content with our walls.
Are you. . .
You can't follow Christ without taking up your cross. And crosses come in all shapes and sizes.
Angels watch in amazement that such a sinner can be so transformed by Christ's power.
Satan slinks away in shame.
Epic, spiritual wars are raging in the air around you. Unseen forces are at work in your life. You have decisions to make and those difficult choices will determine which spiritual entity will win that particular battle.
Prepare yourself to follow Christ into places aromatic with sacrifice and abundant with suffering. It is there that you will find Him. It is there that you will come to know Him.
"That I may know Him. . . and the fellowship of his sufferings."
Fellowship is so much sweeter in the context of follow-ship.
Blood, sweat, and tears.
Students graduating from BJMBC can tell you all about it. Each one has to successfully pass their written and oral comprehensive reviews, which have put butterflies in the stomachs of the most diligent and sent others from the room weeping.
That is not the purpose, of course. We are not trying to traumatize our students right before we transfer their tassel from one side to the other.
No, the purpose is to see how hard they have worked over the last four years. How much have they retained? Did they really internalize these truths, thus allowing their profit to appear to all? Or have they simply crammed their way through the years, studying just for a grade on a test?
We want our students to graduate, not because they have passed tests, but because they have learned truth.
Other colleges want the same thing.
So when I read this article about "Recto University," where anybody who wants to can purchase a fake diploma from the Metro Manila college of their choice for about 12 US dollars, I was filled with righteous indignation.
But I was not surprised. Man, in his depravity, often looks for shortcuts to success.
They also look for shortcuts to heaven.
Remember the "Indulgences" sold by Johann Tetzel? "As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs!" Tetzel took it even further than that, claiming that indulgences were certificates of forgiveness for sins past and even future. Planning to rob a bank tonight? Buy an indulgence this morning. Bingo, you are already covered!
Indulgences were fake documents spawned by false dogma. Drive-through deliverance from sins.
But then, a couple of weeks after I read that article, something happened that really burned on my heart.
We were at the University of the Philippines, talking to people about the thing that matters most: their souls. Two men entered into conversation with us, one of them immediately saying, "I am a Christian too!" He even told us the name of the large evangelical church he attends here in Metro Manila.
But as the conversation went on, and Tim explained from the Word of God what it means to be a follower of Christ, and what Jesus means when He says, "Except a man be born again, he cannot enter the kingdom of God," the man appeared genuinely baffled. He kept saying, "I've never heard this!"
So he told us his story.
Apparently his boss had wanted to have only "Christians" in his employ, so he sent all his employees to a short seminar at this particular mega-church. At the end of the seminar, they baptized them and sent them home with certificates.
Certificates of salvation.
I hope that someone out of that group was genuinely converted that day. I hope that the mega-church that held the seminar tried hard to explain clearly the Gospel.
But for this particular man, all they offered was a fake document.
So I would like to ask two questions today:
Like Luther, we need to nail some theses to the walls of our lives. There are no shortcuts to heaven. Jesus says, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man cometh unto the Father but by me." He finished the job with His blood, sweat, and tears.
Don't trust in certificates.
Trust in Christ.
If you are not sure that your sins are completely forgiven, please read this document from our mission board called "What If."
The house we live in is destined for destruction.
We plan to tear it down within a year or so and replace it with a building for Bob Jones Memorial Bible College.
It is, in fact, condemned already.
Don't feel sorry for me. This is a good thing, actually. With 5 wildly active boys ten years old and under, we are thankful not to have to worry about every new ding.
But this does affect what we do with the house.
For instance, repairs are carefully weighed. Window screens with holes get replaced because Tim and I have both had Dengue Fever and, let me assure you, I would be grateful if it were a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
But some repairs will not be going on here at our residence.
--Our plumbing is humorous.
It involves a completely incomprehensible maze of blue plastic pipes above ground (which have been punctured and turned into geysers by overzealous shovel wielders and bike riders). We don't know which pipe goes where and as long as I have water flowing in all the normal places, I honestly don't care.
Inside the house, our plumbing includes random knobs and nozzles which, as far as we know, aren't actually connected to any water flow.
We don't fix these plumbing quirks. Why spend money on something that is already destined for destruction?
--Our flooring also has issues.
Wood floors are gouged, water pocked, and warped. A few tiles have been broken or gone missing.
We don't plan to refinish the floors. We did the kitchen floor a while back after flooding ruined the vinyl tile. It was a week of unending dust and banging and mess to lay the new tile. Never again.
Why spend time on something that is destined for destruction?
--Our roofing is holey.
We will have to compensate by using buckets during the rainy season. If it gets really bad, we will fix a sheet or two of metal. Not the whole thing.
Why spend effort on something that is destined for destruction?
This morning I walked the crowded streets near our church in Metro Manila. As a foreigner, I am an object of blatant curiosity. "Good morning, ma'am," people call to me. They stand waiting for a cut of fresh meat hanging in a meat-seller's stall. Waiting for a jeepney ride. Waiting for destruction.
Houses and souls have nothing in common. What we won't spend on a ramshackle house, we will--we must--spend on these people. Time, money, effort, our very lives. . . None of it wasted.
This is our mission.
For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
Tim and Laura
Timothy and Laura Berrey are missionaries with Gospel Fellowship Association. They share a passion for missions which has taken them to several countries in Africa, Asia, and Europe. They currently minister in the Philippines.
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