Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A model from the mountains

Are you enjoying a regular feast of God's Word in your diet of daily disciplines? Personally, I find a reading plan or structure of some kind helpful as a guide to set my study on a given course to give me direction. Sometimes, the most enriching way to study the Bible is to choose a single book and soak in its pages long and deep. That doesn't have to involve reading commentaries (though it could). It might just involve reading and re-reading until the message of the book is part of you. Our good friend and Colorado church planter, Vince Black, recently let me know what his current study of God's Word looks like:

"I took the month of March to read and study through the book of Galatians in my personal reading. I don't have a schedule to get through a certain amount of reading but I try to read through the entire letter in one sitting. I've done that now for 31 days. It has been extremely helpful in my understanding of the argument of the letter. I think I will start in on the Minor Prophets in April in much the same way."

Intricate study of the book of the Bible using outside sources is helpful in many ways, but it's hard to beat simply reading and re-reading and then reading again a book all the way through to get a clear sense of how its entire message hangs together. May Vince's example inspire us to take up the Book and read, re-read and then read again.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Faith Isn't Just Fire Insurance

True saving faith is not simply a matter of believing in Christ because you are afraid of going to hell; faith is not simply a matter of avoiding punishment where you do not have any desire to love and enjoy Christ. Rather, true saving faith means that you come to a deep, heartfelt conviction of how precious Christ is, and 'account all things loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord' (Philippians 3:8). You come to see Christ as all your salvation and happiness (Colossians 3:1).

True saving faith also means that you love every part of Christ's salvation - holiness as well as forgiveness of sins. It means that you earnestly desire God to 'create in you a clean heart and a right spirit' as well as 'hide his face from your sins' (Psalm 51:9-10). Do not be like those who care nothing about Christ at all, except to be delivered from hell. 'Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.' (Matthew 5:6)

- Walter Marshall, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, p. 51

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Sudan Prayer Request

I just got word today from our ReachGlobal contacts in Africa that AIM, the missionary aviation ministry we typically use to fly into Sudan, has announced plans to pull all of their workers out of Sudan at the present time in preparation for the election of officials in Southern Sudan. AIM has made this decision based on the fact that things in Sudan could get violent depending on the outcome of the vote.

Where does that leave us regarding the one or two remaining 2010 trips we had planned to return to Sudan to continue our Community Health Evangelism training? We're not sure. Lord willing, the elections will be peacable and Southern Sudan will remaina peaceful place to send our missionaries. So please pray that our God might give us wisdom to assess the unfolding situation well and make decisions which are both biblically wise and most helpful to our brothers and sisters in Labone Payam.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

'Quiet Time' Killer

We've all been there - seated comfortably in a chair with Bible in hand in some early morning or late evening hour when all is still, ready to engage with God through study and prayer - yet we feel numb and far from God, desensitized to the eternal Word which should be leaping off the page and driving us to our knees in fervent prayer. What's wrong?

Many things could be wrong, including many natural, physical realities (like too little sleep, on-coming illness, lack of exercise leading to general lethargy, etc.). Or the problem may be spiritual. Why don't we have more fruitful experiences of rich communion with God? Possibly because our orientation since we last sought God's face has been decidedly earthly-minded.

Jerremiah Burroughs points to this when he writes, "You complain many times of your vain thoughts in the performance of holy duties. You cry out of dead spirits then, but here lies the cause: you have given yourself up so much to the things of the world at other times that, when you come to converse with God, your hearts are so dead and dull....Oh, how many prayers have been spoiled by an earthly heart!" (A Treatise on Earthly-Mindedness, p. 46)

We cannot expect fruitful and fully-engaged quiet times unless we make a concerted effort to spend the rest of our time in a generally God/gospel-oriented frame of mind/spirit. That does not mean we should live like monks, read only Christian books, listen to only Christian music or seclude ourselves from unbelievers. It means that whatever we do (I Cor. 10:31), we should do with an eye toward pleasing God out of a delight in His grace. Such a Godward orientation in the ebb and flow of life sets us up for rich seasons of biblical study and prayer in our private devotional lives and with our families during daily, family worship. By contrast, even the most disciplined daily devotional habits cannot make up for a general orientation of earthly-mindedness.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Out of Africa

Tomorrow it will be two weeks since we left Minot for our third mission trip to Sudan. We are currently in Kandern, Germany for a few days to encourage our Trinity missionary friends David and Helen McCormack. Though we plan to give a full report during the worship service one week from today, let me briefly fill you in on our trip thus far:

1. Leadership Training. Last year we began the long-term training of Sudanese church leaders. This trip we've been able to build on that, teaching on such subjects as Christian leadership character development, prayer, how the Bible fits together from Genesis to Revelation, etc. As usual, we were prepared to teach on much more than we actually had time for. One of the best aspects of our instruction this trip was growth in the number of pastors we were able to train. By God's grace, we taught men from five different communities.

2. Community Health Evangelism. Most of our time in Labone, Sudan was spent presenting a vision seminar for CHE to the church and village leaders (including two chiefs), helping them understand what CHE is so they can make an informed decision about inviting us back or not to continue training them in it. Most of our CHE training focused on understanding worldview, the difference between relief and development and the importance of those in need taking ownership for solutions to the problems they face. In the next month we'll be waiting to hear from our African friends to see if they want us to continue training them in CHE. If so, we'll likely have at least one more trip to train them intensively in CHE principles later this year.

3. California Partnership. This trip was unique in that three leaders from a church in California joined us during our time in Africa, exploring the possibility of forming a partnership with us in training our friends in Labone in the future. Please be in prayer with us for them as they spend the coming weeks talking and praying about that possibility.

4. Kibera. After our time in Sudan, we had the chance to spend two days in Nirobi, Kenya and visit some Christian ministries reaching out to children in the largest slum in the world: Kibera. Through a school, food program and orphanage, we witnessed amazing ministry to some of the poorest people in the urbanized world. The sacrificial efforts of these saints on a daily basis was a great encouragement and challenge to us all.

5. Germany. When I was in college, I'll never forget a missionary telling our church that the greatest encouragement to those on the field is to have Christian friends from their sending church travel to visit them and witness their ministry first hand. That's what Howard, Nathan and I have been doing for the last three days here in Kandern. Friday we spent time with David McCormack at Black Forest Academy's High School campus, watching him teach, getting a tour of the facility and meeting faculty, staff and students. Today we worshiped with Black Forest Christian Fellowship, the church connected to BFA, and spent extra time with its elders and deacons. Tomorrow we will join Helen at BFA's elementary campus and get to see her in action as she helps teach special-needs students. The McCormacks are a true blessing to this school and a help to the ministries of their students' parents who are serving on the mission field all over the world.

Tuesday morning we'll board a plane in Basel, Switzerland for the three final flights which will bring us home. It's been a very fruitful trip, but we can't wait to get home and share much more with you about what we've seen God doing in other parts of the world.