The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds by Thomas Cole.

Telling the Story

When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. (Luke 2:17,18, NIV) There are a few experiences in our lives that we cannot help but share with others. When I lived in southern California, earthquakes were like that. Each time there was an earthquake we all shared our “earthquake experience” with everyone … [Continue Reading]

When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. (Luke 2:17,18, NIV)

The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds by Thomas Cole.

Cole, Thomas. The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds. 1833–34.

There are a few experiences in our lives that we cannot help but share with others. When I lived in southern California, earthquakes were like that. Each time there was an earthquake we all shared our “earthquake experience” with everyone else, even though we all experienced it. It was just something that we could not keep to ourselves.

Imagine how the shepherds must have felt on the night Jesus was born. It was probably a night like any other for the shepherds, until without warning an angel appeared “and the glory of the Lord shone around them” (Luke 2:9). The angel told them that the Messiah had been born. Israel had been waiting for the Messiah for generations, and now these shepherds received the birth announcement directly from an angel. To top it off, a great company of the heavenly host appeared, glorifying and praising God! What a night! After the angels returned to heaven the shepherds went to Bethlehem to see Jesus, and they saw for themselves everything that the angel had told them. This was an experience which they could not keep to themselves. They shared the story about the baby Jesus and everyone was amazed.

The story of Jesus’ birth and the shepherds’ experience that night has been passed on from generation to generation and has made its way to each of us. We have also had our own experiences with God – amazing, unbelievable stories of grace, mercy and miracles, stories which we must share. We share them with those who have had similar experiences, and of course we share with those who have never heard the story.

It is the desire to share our “God experiences” with those who have never heard that motivates us to come together as the World Mission Prayer League. It is why we work and pray together, and why we send and go to unfamiliar cultures. We have all been motivated and called to this task, but in our day-to-day lives even these heavenly experiences can tend to fade a little, so it is good to remember again how wonderfully amazing the birth of Jesus was. It is good to celebrate the goodness of God and praise him together, reminding ourselves of the unforgettable things that God has done, and in so doing reignite the irrepressible desire to tell others.

In October donations to missionary support funds paid for 53.6 percent of all support expenses; $38,726 was used from the General Fund to supplement missionary allowances and $32,812 was used from the Estate Fund to supplement benefit expenses for the month.

Thank you for your ongoing support!

Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus

Incarnation

The Incarnation is so very many things. There are so many other things, of course, that it is not. The Incarnation, in particular, is about God become a human being – and not the other way around. The Incarnation is about the Son of God pouring himself out, taking on human flesh, assuming the form of a servant and becoming obedient unto death (Philippians 2:5-11). It is about the Word made flesh come now to … [Continue Reading]

The Incarnation is so very many things. There are so many other things, of course, that it is not.

The Incarnation, in particular, is about God become a human being – and not the other way around. The Incarnation is about the Son of God pouring himself out, taking on human flesh, assuming the form of a servant and becoming obedient unto death (Philippians 2:5-11). It is about the Word made flesh come now to dwell among us, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). It is about the Eternal Father entering the actual conflicted life we too must live (Isaiah 9:6). And he enters to redeem us (Luke 19:10).

A few days ago, one of my five-year-old grandsons debriefed with me, a little, his Sunday School lesson from the weekend before. “We heard about the Sea of Galilee, and stuff,” he reported with some enthusiasm. “I think that’s where God used to live.”

My grandson had his theology pretty close to correct, I think – except for the tense. God still lives in places like the Sea of Galilee. And in places like your heart and living room, too (cf. Isaiah 57:15).

“The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14, The Message). This is the place and we are the ones among whom God has come, set up shop, introduced heaven, sought and healed and redeemed his wayward ones. This is what the Incarnation is about. In Jesus Christ, God the Father Almighty has appeared on the scene to reconcile the world to himself (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).

Come Thou Long-Expected JesusThe Incarnation is not, however, about human beings becoming divine. It is not about human flesh aspiring to heaven. It is not about divinizing the world that surrounds us, as if tawdry earth were progressing inexorably heavenward. The Incarnation is about heaven descending to earth, not earth on some slow rise to heaven.

And the Incarnation is not about some divine spark in human hearts, which might be fanned into flame with the proper inspiration. There is no divine spark within us. There is only a hole, as St. Augustine so aptly described, which cannot be filled in any way whatsoever – unless God by his grace should fill it.

The Incarnation is more like an invasion. It is about the King crossing enemy lines to claim as his own what is rightfully his. It is about Rescue and Redemption. It is about the Righteous One coming to make us righteous and the Holy One coming to make us holy. It is about the Great Healer coming to heal cracked and wayward things – not to bless or complete their natural “spark” of goodness, somehow. It is about the Redeemer of the world coming to win the world and its peoples to himself.

You may get a feel for the Incarnation of God by the proclamation that characteristically follows: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near!” (Matthew 3:2). Repentance is the only reasonable response – not some comfortable progression, or cozy meditation, or fanning some “spark” into flame.

In Jesus Christ, the Kingdom of Heaven has revealed its amazing design. In Jesus Christ, we have learned the King’s name and seen his deepest heart displayed. He has come to us in this Baby, this Boy, this Rabbi and Messiah, this Crucified and Risen Lord.

In Jesus, the Kingdom of Heaven has come radically near – and calls us now to repentance and faith. Not to look within, but to look to him. Not to fan some flame within us, but to enter the bracing light of Day.

So now, at Christmas time, let us pause to remember what the Incarnation is all about.

It is about a Baby, certainly, the visit of shepherds and angels’ songs.

It is also about an Invasion that changes everything forever, and calls every heart to faith. This Child, you see, is the Creator of All Things, the Eternal Father, the King of kings. And He has come. He is here. He comes to lay claim upon your life and mine. He comes to redeem us, then make us agents of his redemption throughout the world.

Paperclips

One in One Hundred

Here is yet another way we get our callings wrong. We think them rare, or heroic, or extraordinary. We think them exceptional, somehow unique, almost beyond belief. Like winning the lottery, maybe. Or coming down with an unusual, life-changing disease. Yet if we think missionary callings extraordinary, we have misunderstood the callings of God. You are called by God into the mission of God in the world. So am I. “If anyone is in Christ, … [Continue Reading]

Here is yet another way we get our callings wrong.

We think them rare, or heroic, or extraordinary. We think them exceptional, somehow unique, almost beyond belief. Like winning the lottery, maybe. Or coming down with an unusual, life-changing disease.

Yet if we think missionary callings extraordinary, we have misunderstood the callings of God. You are called by God into the mission of God in the world. So am I.

“If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation,” St. Paul tells us. Everything becomes new for them. They get a new identity, a new perspective – and a new purpose in life, too. “All this is from God,” St. Paul goes on to say, “who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation… So we are ambassadors for Christ…” (2 Corinthians 5:17, 18, 20). This means you.

Not everyone will go, of course. All Christians are enlisted in the cause. Not everyone is called or specifically gifted for cross-cultural missionary outreach, however. Yet the numbers of the called and specifically gifted may be larger than you think – better percentages, certainly, than the odds of winning the lottery.

Some years ago, I was privileged to study at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. One of my professors was a fellow named C. Peter Wagner, an expert in the study of spiritual gifts. Dr. Wagner estimated that one out of one hundred Christians, in general, has been entrusted with the specific set of spiritual gifts associated with effective missionary service.

Paperclips

Paperclips by Javier Gazzari • CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

If Wagner is correct in his estimate, how many may have received missionary gifting in a typical Lutheran congregation? How many, do you think, in your own congregation? The mathematics are not complicated. If you have 100 members on your membership roster, you may expect one of them to be specifically gifted as a missionary. If you have 1000, you may expect ten.

This means that you may expect someone to be gifted as a missionary specifically – in every average Lutheran congregation across America. In larger congregations like my own, you may expect many individuals to be gifted as missionaries.

I don’t mean missionaries from down the road or across the state, who may come by for a visit from time to time. I mean missionaries in your own homegrown fellowship – people you know, whose faces you recognize, your own neighbors, your friends and family. Maybe even you.

If Wagner’s estimate is remotely correct (personally, I think that he under-estimates) we may expect missionary gifting everywhere. Every believer a part of the cause. And giftings and callings are distributed widely.

Dr. Wagner’s estimate underscores a simple fact, often overlooked or unrecognized: missionary gifting is normal. Missionary callings are normal. Missionary service is a normal condition for normal Christian fellowship. I don’t want to alarm you unnecessarily, yet I think that you should know. When you go to church this Sunday morning, you are likely to shake hands with someone gifted and equipped to be a missionary.

If you are a pastor, you may wonder how to respond to such a situation. If you teach Sunday School or Confirmation, you may wonder what to do if missionary-gifted individuals turn up in your class. Maybe you will wonder if the condition is contagious.

Here are some simple suggestions.

1. Don’t freak out: missionary gifting is normal. Where the people of God gather to worship and pray, you may expect to find missionaries. It should cause you more alarm if you did not. Don’t treat callings as aberrations.

2. Think stewardship. You may feel inclined to think of the called as curiosities, or maybe even problems. Think of them as assets, instead. God has gifted your faith community with a role in his mission. The called among you are part of his strategic provision. Steward them.

3. Think obedience. “Be sure that you do not refuse to hear the voice of God,” the writer to the Hebrews advised (12:25, Phillips). “Obedience is the test of whether we really live ‘in God’ or not” (1 John 2:5-6, Phillips). Don’t minimize the giftings and callings among you. Callings are resolved by obedience.

4. Count on the grace of God. “He who calls you is utterly faithful and he will finish what he has set out to do” (1 Thessalonians 5:24, Phillips). The gifts of missionary calling and suitability are, well, gifts. Like every spiritual gift, they are received by grace through faith. You may depend upon God – not only to give his good gifts, but the grace as well to fulfill them.

If you are a missionary-gifted individual yourself, my advice is the same. Don’t freak out: the condition is normal. Steward it. Aim always to obey. And lean your whole weight on the wonderful grace of God.

These are some ways to get our callings right.

Missionary Allowance Increase

In October our Home Council voted to approve an increase in monthly missionary allowances, which will go into effect on January 1, 2015. Paragraph 39 of the Mission Handbook explains a little about our philosophy on missionary allowances: The Mission’s financial policy believes and assumes that God is faithful, and may be counted upon to provide in every way, both spiritually and materially, for the advancement of his kingdom’s work around the world. The Mission, … [Continue Reading]

In October our Home Council voted to approve an increase in monthly missionary allowances, which will go into effect on January 1, 2015. Paragraph 39 of the Mission Handbook explains a little about our philosophy on missionary allowances:

The Mission’s financial policy believes and assumes that God is faithful, and may be counted upon to provide in every way, both spiritually and materially, for the advancement of his kingdom’s work around the world. The Mission, therefore, does not curtail or delimit its activities on the basis of a formal budget…. No stated salary is pledged or promised to any worker wherever assigned…. A certain sum is specified as a goal for monthly living allowances to be paid each worker when there are sufficient funds on hand. But if funds are not sufficient for full allowances, the workers receive allowances in proportion to the funds on hand.

The “goal for monthly living allowances” is what we commonly refer to as “target allowance,” which, as you can see, is not a guarantee but rather the amount we hope to pay our missionaries. Paragraph 40 of the Handbook has this to say regarding allowances:

The missionaries and workers live and conduct their work in as simple a fashion as possible, while seeking to maintain health and good order.

The target allowance is intended to enable our missionaries to do just that.

The Council reviews and sets target allowance goals annually, but first a couple of things are done. Each year the Personnel Office asks our missionaries directly through a survey to report if their needs are being met. This survey gives all of our workers the opportunity to give feedback on the appropriateness of the current target allowance in their own situation.

While this is happening, the Business Office also reviews the history of WMPL allowances on an inflation-adjusted basis. Then, after hearing from our missionaries, reviewing the history of allowance payments and spending time in prayer, the Finance Committee makes a recommendation to the Council regarding the next year’s target allowance.

The January 2015 allowance increase will be about three percent for the average missionary family. This is an amount slightly higher than inflation for the year, but it is meant to offset the recent trend of allowances not keeping pace with inflation.

In September donations to missionary support funds paid for 43.3 percent of all support expenses; $39,910 was used from the General Fund to supplement missionary allowances and $45,261 was used from the Estate Fund to supplement benefit expenses for the month.

Thank you for your partnership in this ministry, your concern for those in the world who have not yet heard the gospel, and your support of WMPL fellow workers who have answered God’s call to go and share the Good News in word and deed.

Darjeeling Hills Bible School, 1961

Darjeeling Hills Bible School: Sixty Years in Ministry!

Darjeeling Hills Bible School & Seminary develops Christian Leaders in the Nepali speaking world. This past February marked 60 years of ministry. In this year of their Diamond Jubilee, the General Board gives thanks to God for His faithfulness and will host a grand celebration with honored graduates on November 27-29, 2014. Below is our contribution to their souvenir publication. Written by Pastor Charles Lindquist, Director, World Mission Prayer League. Darjeeling Hills Bible School has reached … [Continue Reading]

Darjeeling Hills Bible School & Seminary develops Christian Leaders in the Nepali speaking world. This past February marked 60 years of ministry. In this year of their Diamond Jubilee, the General Board gives thanks to God for His faithfulness and will host a grand celebration with honored graduates on November 27-29, 2014. Below is our contribution to their souvenir publication. Written by Pastor Charles Lindquist, Director, World Mission Prayer League.

Darjeeling Hills Bible School has reached its sixtieth anniversary! We represent the oldest Bible School serving the Nepali-speaking church. No school or institution, I should think, has contributed more to the development of biblically grounded leadership for the Nepali church through the years – and especially in its early days.

God has been faithful along the way!

Permit me to share a few reflections, on this our anniversary year. I was not present myself during those early days, sixty years ago: I was barely a child. Yet I know many who were. They are my heroes.

Darjeeling Early Years

Darjeeling, c. 1954 • Monrad Ulveseter, Betty (Hanson) Simrose, Roy & Alma Hagen, Helen Hjelmervik, Vallie & Al Berg, Herman Simrose, Fran Swenson, Ruthie Overvold

From hectographs to iPhones…

Ten years ago, I had the privilege of participating in the fiftieth anniversary of Darjeeling Hills Bible School. I consider the event a highlight of my missionary career. As I walked the campus, strolled the surrounding hills, visited with staff, students and other guests, I felt myself standing upon the shoulders of so very many who had gone before – heroes of the faith, visionaries and pioneers, expatriate and national colleagues and friends.

Fran Swenson was one of them – one of my dear friends and personal heroes, now at home with the Lord. I knew Fran for many years. I served with her in our Home Office here in Minneapolis, upon her retirement from service in Nepal.

Fran was impressive to me in so many ways. She was an astute student of the Bible: she knew the Scriptures well. She was an able student of language and culture: she communicated in Nepali, as I understand, almost as well as in her mother tongue. And she was eminently practical. A farm girl, she knew how to milk cows, butcher chickens, pound nails, paint barns, and so on. This impressed me, too.

And Fran knew how to write and duplicate Bible study guides. She taught a few of our early Bible courses, with Pr. Roy and Alma Hagen – who themselves carried the founding vision for Darjeeling Hills Bible School.

Fran was a fan of the latest and greatest practical technology. She employed something called a “hectograph” for duplicating her earliest Bible Study guides. The device consisted of a cake pan, more or less, filled with something like gelatin. The gelatin would receive an image from a specially inked paper. You could duplicate the image on another sheet of paper by pressing it into the gelatin. You could create many copies in this way, apparently, one sheet at a time.

While walking the campus ten years ago, I was surprised to see a hectograph still on a shelf in a storage room: I was told that it was Fran’s. It was stored neatly at about eye-level, as if Fran herself might show up at any moment to make a few copies. I suppose that it is gone by now. Today you might print things wirelessly, I should think, from your iPhone. (Even during Fran’s day, the school used a mimeograph and small offset press in addition to their hectograph.)

The world has changed so very dramatically since Roy and Alma, Fran and the team made lessons on a hectograph.

The campus has grown – from three small cottages, once upon a time, and two classroom spaces, to the expansive campus we see today.

Darjeeling Hills Bible School, 1961

Staff & graduation class, 1961. Al Berg, seated.

Kanchenjunga still towers above the horizon, as it did sixty years ago. Today, however, internet cafes stand at its base. Tea is grown on the fertile slopes of West Bengal, as it was sixty years ago. Today, however, it is marketed electronically around the world. A steam locomotive still courses through the hills from Darjeeling to the plains below. (Some things do not change quickly.) And most Darjeelingers, I think, still walk wherever they are going. Yet today you can hire a late-model car, too, and travel comfortably from Mirik to Bagdogra or Siliguri in a matter of hours.

Most notably of all, the church has grown. Sixty years ago, we measured the Nepali-language church in the dozens and hundreds. Today we measure it in the millions. There were no Bible Schools serving the church sixty years ago. Today the church has many missions and ministries, projects and institutions, much vision and leadership, energy and dynamic possibility.

We have grown through the years – from the era of hectographs to the world of iPhones, and from a handful of believers to a burgeoning church. The transition presents us with the challenge – and wonderful opportunity – to reinvent ourselves for this new day. We stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before. Yet we strain still forward, toward the horizon of God’s calling and mission in this new day.

From planting to harvest…

I have many other heroes, as well.

I think of dear Roy and Alma Hagen: I have known the Hagen family for very many years. I think of Becky Grimsrud and Millie Hasselquist (now Tengbom), who rented Gurung Cottage in 1951, with sister Ruth Mukhia. They became the nucleus of what became the Bible School. I think of Jonathan and Evie Lindell, Ruthie Overvold, Al and Vallie Berg, Herman and Betty Simrose, Berit and Luther Eriksson, and others. They taught the Word of God. They entered Mirik market, maybe played an accordion, and sold tracts. They opened a little dispensary. They shared the wonderful Gospel story, encouraged inquirers – and then a growing handful of young believers. As young believers appeared, they discipled them.

Theodore Manaen, 1994

Theodore Manaen, 1994

These were our “planters,” we might say. They sowed a seed of Gospel vision and power. Today we are harvesting the fruit of their labors.

I think of Theodore Manaen in this way – another personal friend and hero. Theodore is a sower and planter of the first order: it is one of his principal spiritual gifts. I have witnessed his gifts first hand as I served with Theodore and his dear wife Arun in our Home Office in Minneapolis. I know Theodore as a brother with wide missional vision – though his physical vision has been failing of late. He is rooted in Scripture and faith, expansive in missional concern, creative in his thinking, and faithful and effective in his relationships. He has a pastoral heart as well. He has been a pastor to me, from time to time.

Theodore envisioned the harvest while Darjeeling Hills Bible School was still planting. Theodore pictured full grain, mature upon the stalk – harvestable, and ready to produce seed of its own for planting again. He helped us to imagine generations of students and ministers, pastors and deacons, Sunday School teachers, counselors and evangelists.

Theodore is a model of prayer, as well. Prayer continues to fuel his vision, and helps him to see beyond our own challenges and uncertainties to the dependable certainties of God’s word and promises. Theodore prays daily for the World Mission Prayer League, I happen to know. He prays for me, personally. I do not doubt that he prays as well for our colleagues and friends at Darjeeling Hills Bible School – where, of course, he has often served as President of our Board of Directors.

We have done much planting through the years; we are harvesting, too. Prayer, we might say, provides the dynamic link between planting and harvest. Prayer factors the promises of God into our thinking and plans, our lives and ministries. We say that “prayer changes things” – and it is certainly true. Prayer also changes us. As we speak to God, he also speaks to us. He reminds us of his grace for our calling, his power for our inadequacies, his faithfulness for our wavering – and his appointed harvest for our obedient planting. “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth,” God says. “It shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11).

There is still planting to do. And there remains a further harvest in the Nepali-speaking world. Darjeeling Hills Bible School is still called to participate.

From pioneers to partners…

I have still other heroes in mind.

Sixty years ago, expatriate friends pioneered much of this important ministry. They invested their lives in a vision that they believed in. They became our pioneers.

Pioneering today belongs to another generation, now from local contexts. They invest their lives in the same dynamic global vision. We are partners with these friends in God’s wonderful kingdom: expatriates and national friends, old-hands and younger colleagues, staff and students, generations of alumni and fresh-faced recruits – the entire ministry community of Darjeeling Hills Bible School.

It is important to note that our pioneers and founders were always, in fact, expatriate and national friends partnering together. The threesome that rented Gurung College included Ruth Mukhia, the younger sister of Pr. K.D. Mukhia. Our earliest faculty included Pr. Tshering and Rebecca Rai, at its very core. Our earliest boarding program could not have functioned without Harkamaya Mukhia. Our first advisory board, as I understand, included fourteen Nepali Christians… and two expatriate workers.

Rev. Dr. Kamal Rai, 2004 (50th Anniversary Jubilee)

Rev. Dr. Kamal Rai, 2004 (50th Anniversary Jubilee)

I say “our” ministry with intentionality. Our ministries in Mirik have been “partnered” and shared from the very beginning. They have not “belonged” in any unique or exclusive way to the expatriate community – or the national community. Indeed, our entire ministry community, expatriate and national, belongs itself to Another. We partner together in the greater Kingdom of God.

Another of my friends and personal heroes represents this shared, partnering spirit. I think of our current Principal, the Rev. Dr. Kamal Rai.

Once Fran and Ruthie, Theodore and Arun, Roy and Alma, Al and Vallie – and many others – pioneered the work of Darjeeling Hills Bible School. Today the pioneering belongs to a new generation of colleagues and friends – people like Dr. Rai, and the students and staff he has assembled. They represent both past and future of our shared ministry. They stand themselves on the shoulders of others; future generations stand on theirs.

These are people rooted in the Word of God: this is what they offer to the world. These are people redeemed by grace. They are not themselves the “cornerstone” of our edifice: Jesus alone is our Cornerstone. These are people built upon the one and only Savior of the world, redeemed by his grace, equipped by his Spirit, and enlisted for service in his wonderful Kingdom.

Our Lord advises us to build with people like these, as they are built upon the Savior (Ephesians 2:20).

In common service to the King…

It is the Savior himself, the King of Kings, who makes this partnership possible.

For we do not serve, in the end, a denomination, or nationality, or language group, or favorite institution – not even the illustrious Darjeeling Hills Bible School. We serve the King. We are enlisted in his broad and wonderful Kingdom. It is he who draws us ever to the horizon, and then beyond. He is the one who has called into being Darjeeling Hills Bible School, many years ago. He is the one who leads onward.

Old Worn Bible

Getting Our Callings Right (Again) …

There are so many ways to get missionary callings wrong. One of the most common, as I mentioned last month, is to suppose that we are called to go some­where and to do some thing, first of all. Well, no, we are not. We are called to Someone, first of all. Only then do we discover some place to serve and some concrete thing to do. Another common misconception is that specific places and activities … [Continue Reading]

There are so many ways to get missionary callings wrong. One of the most common, as I mentioned last month, is to suppose that we are called to go some­where and to do some thing, first of all. Well, no, we are not. We are called to Someone, first of all. Only then do we discover some place to serve and some concrete thing to do.

Another common misconception is that specific places and activities don’t matter in the end. We come to believe that we can serve in one place as well as another. We can do one thing as well as we can do another. It doesn’t really matter.

This is like saying that the main thing about a journey to Chicago is one’s sense of comfortability along the way. It doesn’t matter so very much if you head to the north or south, east or west, by freeway or back roads specifically. Roll down your windows, turn up your radio and be at peace. You will get there (or somewhere) eventually.

It turns out that specific places and particular activities do matter. They matter explicitly and in detail. Yet not in the way that we sometimes imagine.

Sometimes we imagine that our spiritual lives will remain forever unfulfilled if we do not discover the one, precise, pre-ordained place – and the one exact career – established for us from before the beginning of time. I have met people like this; maybe you have, too. They may feel unfulfilled perpetually.

This attitude, I am convinced, is a dreadful mistake. It is based in pride, I think – as if you were so extraordinarily special that heaven itself must hold its breath until you discover your magnificent destiny. The attitude may become a bludgeon in marriages and families – as if your marriage and family were all about you and your vocational fulfillment. It is an attitude that is consumed with your specific need for your specific fulfillment in your specific career. It is less consumed with Christ.

Sometimes, on the other hand, we imagine that places and careers matter only theoretically. They are abstract concepts; in real life, any old place will do and any old profession will suffice. You may as well choose some place and some profession that make you happy (and maybe a lot of money.) It only matters in the abstract.

This attitude is a mistake, too. Once again, I think, it is based in pride – as if your own likes and dislikes, whims and fancies were so dear and important that heaven’s own agenda must take note. Everything else becomes abstract. Your own prerogatives and personal fulfillment become paramount.

Old Worn BibleHere is what I sometimes counsel missionary inquirers along this line: get your heads screwed on straight – square your priorities and convictions with biblical priorities and convictions – and then do what you have before you to do. Do, in fact, whatever you like. But do it with joy and abandon, as your Kingdom service and responsibility, in response to the calling of God in your life, and to please your Lord Jesus Christ.

“Building biblical priorities and convictions” – this is the key here. It is surprising how poorly we accomplish it.

Biblical people are possessed by Jesus Christ, first of all. They are bought and redeemed by the Savior of the world, and to him they belong hook, line and sinker (1 Corinthians 3:23, 6:20).

Biblical people consider themselves sojourners in the earth (1 Peter 1:1, 2:11). They are always moving out and pressing on (Philippians 3:13ff.). They are hearers (Matthew 4:4). They are sharers (Hebrews 13:16). They are disciple-makers along the way (Matthew 28:18ff). They are ambassadors for Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:20).

Biblical people are reflectors of the light of Jesus Christ (Matthew 5:14) and sounders of his wonderful grace (Romans 10:8f). They are eager to work among “the least of these,” specifically (Matthew 25:40, Mark 2:17, Romans 15:20, Isaiah 52:15, etc). They work in the light of the great throne in heaven, around which every tribe and tongue will one day gather (Revelation 7:9). They work in the interim to make disciples from every single one (Matthew 28:18ff).

So if you feel that you are called to hibernate in some cozy little corner, I sometimes tell inquirers, think again. If you believe that you are called to something comfortable – something manageable, at least – think again. If you believe it doesn’t matter, really, in the end, then you better start thinking, too.

But if you are possessed by Jesus Christ, redeemed by his love and fueled by his grace – if you are moving in direction of the lost and the poor, with the love of Christ in your heart and the word of the gospel in your mouth – why, then, the entire world is your field of activity. And you can do almost anything.

Gift Card Breakage

I recently read that a well-known restaurant chain reported $1.7 million in earnings for one year, from gift cards that were purchased but never used. The financial report referred to this as “gift card breakage.” That was amazing to me. Nearly two million dollars were given to the company for food – food never requested and never received. What a waste of money! But it was only money. The free gift of God is tragically wasted, too, often enough. It can be wasted in … [Continue Reading]

I recently read that a well-known restaurant chain reported $1.7 million in earnings for one year, from gift cards that were purchased but never used. The financial report referred to this as “gift card breakage.” That was amazing to me. Nearly two million dollars were given to the company for food – food never requested and never received. What a waste of money! But it was only money.

The free gift of God is tragically wasted, too, often enough. It can be wasted in more ways than one. Salvation and the forgiveness of sins, for example, are available to many who have never even heard the Good News. This is the motivation behind the Great Commission and the very purpose for the existence of the World Mission Prayer League.

Jesus is the only one capable of paying the price to defeat death and sin. And he has done so! But there are too many who have never heard this Good News. They are in remote parts of the world where information is limited – and in our own neighborhoods, as well, where information may be plentiful but misunderstanding is plentiful, too. We have a job to do! It is our job to get out the Good News wherever God has put us, through prayer and faithful obedience.

But God’s gifts involve more than eternal salvation. He also gives us the Holy Spirit and the power to lead godly lives. As we continue to live by the Spirit, God leads us into greater righteousness and prepares us to share the Good News with others. God through his Spirit makes us discerning and puts us in the way of opportunity. We see opportunities to pray for the lost and share the Good News. This is another gift from God that is too often wasted.

“Gift card breakage” is silly – a waste of money on the part of the consumer, through negligence or laziness. But the consequences are not so very bad. To be negligent or lazy with the gift of God, on the other hand, has tragic and eternal consequences. Jesus has paid the price already. It is now up to us to continue to draw closer to him, throwing off sin and allowing God to work through us. We must do this in order to bring the message of a salvation that has already been purchased to those who have never heard or understood it.

In August donations to missionary support funds paid for 44.1 percent of all support expenses; $39,779 was used from the General Fund to supplement missionary allowances and $47,508 was used from the Estate Fund to supplement benefit expenses for the month.

Thank you for your ongoing support!

Missionary Compensation

In July we paid our missionaries 100 percent of their target allowance. This marked the 24th consecutive month in which full allowances were paid, overseas and in the Home Office. This is the longest period of “full allowance” during my time of service as Business Manager, and we are all very thankful for God’s provision. Here is a quick look at what it means to pay full allowance and how it happens. In a typical … [Continue Reading]

In July we paid our missionaries 100 percent of their target allowance. This marked the 24th consecutive month in which full allowances were paid, overseas and in the Home Office. This is the longest period of “full allowance” during my time of service as Business Manager, and we are all very thankful for God’s provision. Here is a quick look at what it means to pay full allowance and how it happens.

In a typical month we need about $150,000 to meet all of our missionary compensation needs. About $77,000 of that is used to pay allowance directly to our people. This puts bread on their tables and gasoline in their cars. Allowances are determined entirely by family size; years of experience or job title are not considered. We are all “missionaries,” and the mission desires to provide enough to meet our family needs.

The remaining $73,000 is used to pay for “benefits,” which include health insurance, housing, social security taxes, and so on. You will notice that we consider housing a “benefit” rather than a part of allowance. This is due to the fact that housing costs vary so much from country to country; it would be difficult to include housing in an allowance based simply on family size. When reporting to the IRS, of course, housing is included as income. But for our internal accounting, we consider it a “benefit.”

When we talk about paying “full allowance,” we mean family allowance calculations; benefits are considered separately, as fixed expenses that must be paid each month. This monthly family allowance is not guaranteed: it depends entirely on designated gifts. Health insurance and housing may be paid in full, even if allowance is not.

When you give $100 to a missionary’s Support Fund, your entire donation is applied to a missionary’s monthly family allowance and corresponding benefits. We consider missionaries “fully supported” if they have received enough donations to cover both of these amounts – allowance and benefits for the month. Paying full allowance in any given month, however, does not mean that all of our missionaries are “fully supported.” Missionaries who have not received donations sufficient for their allowance and benefit needs may have their needs supplemented by our General Fund or our Estate Fund. We use our General Fund, if available, to supplement allowances, and our Estate Funds, if we have them, to supplement benefit expenses. So far this year, our General Fund has covered 49% of all missionary allowances, and our Estate Fund has paid for 55% of benefits. To date this year, donations to missionary support funds have paid for 48% of total missionary compensation.

In July donations to missionary support covered 52.9% of all support expenses; $37,277 was used from the General Fund to supplement missionary allowances, and $35,740 was transferred from Estate Funds to supplement benefit expenses for the month. Let me know if you have questions about a project or missionary you may be praying for in particular.

Thank you for your ongoing support!

Fully Given Over to Jesus

Getting Our Callings Right …

A few weeks ago we completed our annual Missionary Candidates’ Briefing Course. Fifteen candidates and missionary inquirers from here and there around the country (and a few from elsewhere in the world) gathered at our offices on Clifton Avenue. We spent nearly a month together – in lively dialogue about kingdom ambitions, missionary commissions, strategic futures, effective training, preparation, and many other things. It has set me to thinking about callings. There are so many … [Continue Reading]

A few weeks ago we completed our annual Missionary Candidates’ Briefing Course. Fifteen candidates and missionary inquirers from here and there around the country (and a few from elsewhere in the world) gathered at our offices on Clifton Avenue. We spent nearly a month together – in lively dialogue about kingdom ambitions, missionary commissions, strategic futures, effective training, preparation, and many other things.

It has set me to thinking about callings. There are so many ways to get our “callings” wrong.

Sometimes we suppose that our fundamental calling is to go somewhere, for example – one of the most basic and errant ways we get our callings wrong, in my estimation. The kind of people who come to Briefing Course may sometimes think this way.

Sometimes we suppose that our fundamental calling is to go somewhere and then to do something – an elaboration of the same, basic misconception. This, too, is a common misunderstanding among the sort of people who come to Briefing Course. People, maybe, like you.

Our fundamental calling is not to go somewhere, or do something, or perform some activity, or practice some profession. Our fundamental calling is to Someone. Christians are called to a relationship, first of all. We are called to be – and only then to do anything at all.

Fully Given Over to Jesus

“Follow me and I will make you fish for people,” Jesus advised his disciples (Matthew 4:19; Mark 1:17). But please note: the following precedes the making. We aren’t called, precisely, to fishing. We are called to Someone, first of all. We become something. Only then – only then – are we made to fish, or do we find a place to cast our line somewhere in the world.

This dynamic is true for the entire Christian life, in fact. We don’t build holiness into our lives by force of will; we become holy by relationship to the Holy One. We don’t build goodness, discipline, contentment, or effectiveness into our lives by an act of mental fiat: we cannot will ourselves to Christian goodness or missionary effectiveness, one fine day, as we might will to change our wardrobe. We are called to Someone. We build our lives and ministries always in relationship to Him.

It is important to keep this straight.

If we do not have this fundamental reality straight, we might come to think that our mission in life is to spread the knowledge of Christianity, for example. Most definitely, it is not. We may think that our mission is denominational or institutional in character, that it is a matter of theological propositions or intellectual assertions, that it is effected by jumping particular churchly hoops or enlisting in particular projects or activities. Our mission, I suppose, may involve all of these things from time to time. But these are not our calling.

We are called to know Jesus Christ. We are called to surrender before him. We are not called to spread religion around the world – not even Christianity. It is our mission to spread the knowledge of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. “Through us, [God] brings knowledge of Christ,” Paul reminds his Corinthian friends (2 Corinthians 2:15. The Message). “For we are the aroma of Christ to God” (NRSV). We are simply called to know Jesus; we are called then to make him known.

This is the basic perspective of faith – and it puts everything else into perspective.

I like to tell our guests at Briefing Course that God isn’t particularly interested in all of their fine abilities, all of their impressive skills, all of their brave resolve to go anywhere and do anything for him. He wants them. He wants you. He wants to hold you in his lap, call you to his side, look you in the eye, and say: “You are mine.”

He wants you!

And once he has you – why, then, you will see – your brave resolve will follow in its time. He will fill you and imbue you with the aroma of Jesus Christ. He will make you his aroma in the world.

It is important to get our callings right. We don’t start with fishing; we start with following. We don’t start with doing; we start with being. We will find a place to cast our line and join in the harvest effort, somewhere in the world. Yet we don’t start there, exactly.

We are called to Someone. We start with Jesus.

Read the follow-ups to this article, Getting Our Callings Right (Again) … and One in One Hundred
Supposed Footprint of Jesus

On the Mount of Ascension

Near the end of our recent visit to the Holy Land, we made our way to the Chapel of the Ascension, in the At-Tur district of Jerusalem. I anticipated the stop with considerable eagerness. Here Jesus issued marching orders that would inspire such daring as the world had seldom seen, such praying and obedience, such giving and sacrifice as to turn the world itself upside down. “You will be my witnesses,” he announced to his … [Continue Reading]

Chapel of the Ascension

Chapel of the Ascension

Near the end of our recent visit to the Holy Land, we made our way to the Chapel of the Ascension, in the At-Tur district of Jerusalem. I anticipated the stop with considerable eagerness.

Here Jesus issued marching orders that would inspire such daring as the world had seldom seen, such praying and obedience, such giving and sacrifice as to turn the world itself upside down. “You will be my witnesses,” he announced to his disciples, “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Here the specific task of Christian mission was put under way. The task that stands at the heart of the World Mission Prayer League. The task that has inspired my own life – and maybe yours as well.

Yet the little site was singularly unimpressive. More than any other place in the Holy Land, in fact, this one left me cold.

A larger church occupied the site once upon a time: visitors can still discern its outline. A mosque stood here once upon a time, as well: visitors can discern a few remaining stones. Today, however, the place is mostly empty: a smallish, non-descript chapel stands at the center of a gravel lot. It is accessed by a single, tight doorway – unless you duck, you are likely to bump year head. The chapel contains no altar, no pews, no images or plaques, and no eye-level windows. It is topped by a simple rounded dome. The floor is bare, save for a small area roped off – about a meter square – with a glimpse of bedrock cleared in a smaller corner. There is something like a footprint in the surface of that rock: tradition presents it as the last footprint of Jesus, as he pushed off into heaven. A pan for offerings is placed just beside it, with a few dollars showing on the day of our visit.

Supposed Footprint of Jesus

Supposed Footprint of Jesus

I do not doubt that our Savior was born in Bethlehem – perhaps in the very grotto that I myself have seen. I do not doubt that he was baptised in the very River of Jordan, maybe near the spot where I stepped into the water myself. I do not doubt that he was reared in Nazareth, made Capernaum his home, and sailed the same waters of Galilee that fill the lake today. I think it likely that he died on the very rock of Golgotha that I have touched with my own hand, and rose from the tomb that stands empty nearby.

But a footprint in rock, as he pushed off from the Mount of Olives into heaven? Here, I think, the tradition has it wrong. Jesus leaves his footprint in our lives.

Jesus has become our peace: he turns us into peacemakers, too (Matthew 5:9; Romans 14:19). Jesus has become our life: he calls us to share that life with others (John 5:24; Acts 5:20). We are called to share in his suffering (1 Peter 2:21). We are called to reflect his saving light (Matthew 5:14-16). Jesus gave himself, humbled himself, and became obedient to the Father’s will even unto death: we are called to “have this mind” ourselves (Philippians 2:5-11). Jesus makes us his disciples; then he calls us to make disciples for him (Matthew 28:18-20).

In a sermon for Ascension Day in 1523, Martin Luther explained the purpose of Christ’s Ascension: “And for this purpose did [Jesus Christ] ascend up thither, that he might be down here, that he might fill all things and be everywhere present; which thing he could not do had he remained on earth.” Now “he is present everywhere,” Luther explained. He is present through his gracious rule, in the Word of God and the Sacraments. And he is present in the lives of his disciples.

I am not so sure about the oblong impression one may see in the rock on the Mount of Ascension: I am not sure that Jesus left a footprint there. But he did leave this: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21). He left this: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:18,19).

He left you and me. He makes us, in a sense, his hands and feet in the world.

Elston Old Chapel, Wall Paintings

Treasure in Heaven

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven … For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21) Rust, corrosion and decay are everywhere in this world. Bridges, highways and ports are all deteriorating faster than we are repairing them. A new car becomes used and “old” in just a few short … [Continue Reading]

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven … For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)

Rust, corrosion and decay are everywhere in this world. Bridges, highways and ports are all deteriorating faster than we are repairing them. A new car becomes used and “old” in just a few short years; a computer or phone takes even less time, and inflation eats away at the money we hold on to. The fact that earthly possessions fade away quickly is plain to see. This should make Jesus’ advice to store up treasure in heaven an easy decision for us – but it is not an easy thing to do!

For example Jesus said: “… for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail” (Luke 12:32,33). This is difficult; the allure of earthly treasures is strong. They may be fading, corroding and subject to thieves, but they are also immediate and tangible. We do not know exactly what our heavenly treasure will look like; it is difficult to bypass immediate rewards for future, unseen rewards.

Jesus also said that no one can serve both God and money (Matthew 6:24). This is helpful, if we allow God to be the Lord of our life. If service to him is the standard and motivating factor for how we live our lives, then it is God who is our master and money will not be. Living a life trying to avoid “serving money” could still leave a void in our lives. On the other hand, living a life full of service to God will not allow room in one’s life to serve money. In the end you cannot serve both!

Ultimately, storing up treasure in heaven requires faith and patience. We are not able to set aside a portion of our paycheck for our “heavenly retirement.” Instead, we must set aside our entire lives in service to others and to God. We do not get a quarterly statement indicating how our heavenly treasure account is faring, but we don’t need one. We can be certain that our heavenly reward will not fade away or be stolen – and that it will far surpass any fading treasure this world has to offer!

In June we were able to pay all of our missionaries 100 percent of their target allowance. We used $40,654 from the General Fund to meet these needs, leaving a General Fund balance of $141,122 at the end of June.

Thank you for your ongoing support!

Contentment

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13) Philippians 4:13 is a well-known and often quoted Bible verse, and with good reason. The verse is empowering and encouraging. I have heard it mentioned in association with many personal accomplishments related to professional goals, sports and physical fitness. Of course we hear the verse when talking about more spiritual matters, also, like overcoming addictions or sharing Christ with others in difficult situations. … [Continue Reading]

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

Philippians 4:13 is a well-known and often quoted Bible verse, and with good reason. The verse is empowering and encouraging. I have heard it mentioned in association with many personal accomplishments related to professional goals, sports and physical fitness. Of course we hear the verse when talking about more spiritual matters, also, like overcoming addictions or sharing Christ with others in difficult situations. We may also look to this verse in difficult times of hardship or persecution. It is good to thank and rely on God in these times, and to celebrate his love and mercy with thankfulness.

However, it seems that we rarely connect Philippians 4:13 with the very things that Paul mentioned right before writing this famous verse. It is one thing to cling to this verse when we are faced with hunger or need. But Paul seems to have taken this a step further. He says that he has learned in every situation to be content. Paul certainly looked to God to supply his needs when supplies were scarce; he was learning as well the secret of contentment in everything.

This is a great lesson for us in ministry. It is easy for us to pray together for God’s provision when supplies do not seem to meet our expectations, and then to rejoice with one another when God supplies what we believe we need. But maybe there is another appropriate response in times of need – contentment. I am not suggesting that financial shortfalls are always the will of God, but we should consider this as a possibility. It is possible that our own financial goals might not be in sync with God’s plans. This we have seen and accepted when financial provision is abundant – but it is more difficult when provision is lacking. If we fail to consider that God’s perfect provision is sometimes less than we anticipated, we can miss out on great ministry and learning opportunities. It is in times like these that we can more easily learn again to depend on the power of God rather than our own abilities. Any ministry we are involved in is ultimately God’s ministry and we can be sure that God knows the needs of his ministry. Neither abundance nor need should ultimately affect the ministry that God has called us to. Like Paul, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.

In May we were able to pay all of our missionaries 100 percent of their target allowance. We used $39,712 from the General Fund to meet these needs, leaving a General Fund balance of $103,809 at the end of the month. Our Benefits Fund carried a balance of $29,341.

Thank you for your ongoing support!