Past, present and future--for those of us who are striving to learn Spanish, these words make us think of verb tenses. In the Spanish language the verb, or action word, changes with the tense that is used. The question I ask myself is...do my actions change when I consider the past, present or future?
When I was younger and before we moved to Mexico, the future looked clean, like spring--full of hope and excitement. My actions tended to be filled with energy and idealism. As the years passed, my days filled with ministry, the family matured, spring turned into summer and the anticipation of spring planting turned into the dog days of summer. The "plants" must be fertilized and the "weeds" must be pulled. The idealism turned into realism and the excitement turned into perseverance.
There were times of dryness as we waited for God to bring the "rain" and other times we sat back amazed when the "rain" did come and growth came in large chunks. Sometimes I felt sad for those who gave financially so that we could be involved in church planting, because they didn't get to see first-hand the changes that God did in the lives of the people.
Then the season changed again as "autumn" arrived, with contemplation about the past. There are things we would adjust if we could, and there are joys that still bring contentment as we ponder the past. As we reflect, we learn. We become more aware of the need for prayer in our own lives, as we are reminded time and again that we just plant and water but God gives the increase. We teach and encourage, but God must do the work in the hearts if there is to be real change.
When we came to Mexico our oldest was ten. Now, two are married and starting their own families. As our family matures and the church becomes more self-sustaining, I look back. What have I learned? What was good or what didn't work? Have I grown? Do I see circumstances and events through God's eyes or does my selfishness still rise to the top as cream rises to the top of fresh milk?
As I reflect, I rummage around to find a list I penned in the past, and which is still in the reworking stage. The list has around fifty points of what I have learned. Here are a few that I hope will be a help for those of you who are in the spring or summer of your ministries or families.
* I need flexibility.
* I need to hold my "rights" loosely.
* My weaknesses follow me to the "mission field."
* I will probably never completely understand the new culture I am living in.
* It is easier to start a ministry than to complete it.
* It is still more enjoyable to preach in my mother tongue.
* Being too "connected" to the world and extended family can be a major thief of time and can cause excessive worries.
* I need the "mind of Christ."
A few about the family:
* Children adapt easily.
*Children learn the language easier.
* On the mission field, children have the privilege to see Christianity from the ground up and new believers maturing and being able to preach.
* Children on the mission field have the opportunity to participate in ministry at a young age.
I am thankful for what I have experienced these past years. Some have been a lot more enjoyable than others. May God bless those who are just starting with perseverance, the ability to laugh at oneself, and the blessing of being refined into what God wants you to become.
--Written by L.Y.
1) The Gospel is the “power of God to salvation to everyone who believes” whether Jew or Greek, Muslim or Hindu. We must be careful not to put obstacles in the way of the Gospel by attaching cultural practices and man-made traditions to the message. (Acts 15:1-29)
2) In establishing an indigenous community of Christ followers the primary goal is not to express the uniqueness of any given culture but rather to manifest clearly the uniqueness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13)
3) When a person is born again he/she receives a new identity that is neither Jewish nor Greek, Muslim nor Hindu, but rather becomes a member of the culture of Christ Followers. Therefore we should avoid an overemphasis on either retaining or rejecting of one’s native culture. 1 Corinthians 7:19 makes it clear that what should guide our conduct as Christians is not what our own culture is or isn’t doing but rather obedience to Christ.
4) Believers should clearly identify themselves as Followers of Christ. For the sake of their Christian testimony believers should leave no confusion in people’s minds as to whom and what they are committed to. (Matthew 10:32-33)
5) The Word of God is the final authority in all matters, therefore all cultural practices and religious rituals must be evaluated in light of the principles of Scripture.
EVALUATION OF THE CULTURE
a) 1 Cor 7:18-20. The principle: A believer is not required to abandon his/her culture to follow Christ. Believers should willingly accept the situation into which God has placed them and be content to serve Him there.
i. Every culture has components to it that are good and bad. What is good (that which is a reflection of the image of God) may and should be retained
ii. That which is an expression of man’s falleness and is in contradiction to the principles of Scripture must be rejected.
b) 1Thess. 5:21-22. The principle: Believers must test everything and be careful to make a clear separation between what is good and what is evil.
EVALUATION OF RELIGIOUS PRACTICES
a) 2 Corinthians 6:14-18. The principle: Believers and unbelievers are part of two different kingdoms that have no agreement with each other. Therefore, believers must not be yoked together (harnessed together) with unbelievers in any religious event or activity.
b) 1 Corinthians 8:4-12 & 1 Corinthians 10:23-33. The principle: Believers must never exercise their liberty in Christ in such a way that it could be a hindrance to a weaker brother. Therefore, believers must be careful not to participate in any ritual or activity of a false religion that leaves the impression of agreement with that false religion.
6) By virtue of obedience to Christ, a believer will of necessity be different from his/her native culture. As God’s people are not called to fit into our culture but rather we are the “called out ones.” (2 Corinthians 6:17)
Written by: A.R.
Recently I was talking with an experienced and wise friend. We were sharing about our struggles and successes in sports ministry in Asia. At one point, I regressed into complaining about my current employee who came back to the Lord after working with me for two years. He does well most of the time, but returns to the bottle every now and then. I have poured into him, given him the benefit of the doubt, treated him with grace, rebuked him for sin, prayed with him, cried for him, and the list goes on.
He is exactly the same person he was five years ago. He has not grown in his faith and has not gotten past his own hang ups. Every time he falls I feel bad for him and want so badly to help him, maybe more than he wants to help himself. I sometimes feel like it was my fault that he fell, because I did not encourage him enough or I did not keep him busy enough. I am now realizing I have somewhat become the victim of an alcoholic.
My friend’s response went something like this:
I too once had an assistant that I poured into and poured into, wanting to help him mature into a Christian leader, but he was like a bucket with holes in the bottom. The bucket never filled up. He only had in him what I had poured into him at that moment. I now have a different assistant and when I pour into him he runs over and spills all over those around him.
I have been teaching through the book of I Timothy. We see Paul pouring into Timothy, teaching him, and encouraging him to serve Christ without hesitation. He calls Timothy to teach and impact other people around him and to spill over onto his community.
Paul says in I Timothy 4:15 & 16, “Be diligent . . . so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do so you will save both yourself and your hearers.” Paul was not investing in Timothy only to save one young man, but to prepare a leader to impact many and to save his hearers.
So as church planters or mentors how do we find these young lives who are buckets without holes? The Lord brought my employee to me and he served me well as an employee. However, he never became the man of God who would impact the people around him; he has more leaks than I have spiritual energy. At times I have not shared enough in the community because I was busy trying to fill a leaky bucket.
Today, I am trying to process cutting myself loose from this man, giving up on him, giving him over to Satan (I Timothy 1:20), turning the responsibility of healing this broken man over to God.
Today, I am also trying to process a phone call I got last week. Over the last year I have been wishing for a national man to work beside me, not an employee working for a salary. I can find an employee easily by putting out a job description and processing the applications.
However, I am looking for someone to work beside me as we both serve the Lord. This is not someone you can find with an ad. It is someone I need to wait for with patience.
Last week I received a call. A young man quit a very good job in international relations at a big electronics company in the city and is feeling led to serve the Lord. He wanted to know if we need someone. Yes, we need a water-tight bucket that will spill over with the love of Christ onto our community. So we seek and pray. Is this young man a Timothy sent to us?
--Written by L.E.
Planting a church is an adventure, a journey, a process, a series of steps one after another. Jesus encouraged us to count the cost of being His disciple (Luke 14:28). Surely this principle applies as well to the vision of planting a new church.
The following is an attempt to outline the steps a church planter often encounters in the journey of planting a new church. It is not an exact template that we can mechanically follow in the process. God loves and uses a variety of personalities, gifts and ideas as He pleases. At the root of everything is total surrender to the will of God under the direction of the Holy Spirit. Without that continual surrender, nothing “works.”
May God guide as you “survey the terrain” and “count the cost” of planting a new church. May He fill you with hope, courage, vision and faith to dare and to do for His pleasure. May He wonderfully demonstrate through you His ability “…to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us” for His glory” (Eph. 3:20 ESV).