Why We Aren’t Supporting Mission Agencies

A number of concerned supporters of missions just noticed that beginning with this year’s budget we changed our support structure–specifically moving monies from home office general funds to either the “new support” line or missionaries supported by those agencies.  We announced this last year, and the new budget was designed this way, but for whatever reason it apparently was not understood by all.  The question, of course, is “why?”

The short answer is one of priorities.  Missionary support is a higher priority for us than agency support.  We do give to a number of agencies whose work is as an agency (Shepherds, Baptist Childrens Home, etc.).  Limited resources force us to make uncomfortable decisions.  Current missionaries are still undersupported and our ability to take on new missionaries is very limited, even though new ones are on the horizon.  Home offices of all missionaries we support require their personnel to raise a percentage of support to be given to the home office, so some of our missionary support does go to them.  We also have responded to home office special needs during this year. 

This, however, is not something we are happy about.  We had to decide where to free up money that could go to new missionaries who were doing work in line with our newly minted strategy, and could help missionaries facing significant deficits.

This temporary situation will continue until we are able to increase our missions budget to the 20% of budget that was targeted many years ago as the ideal for our church.  We also will not automatically restore all agencies, but will choose to support those that are in line with our vision and committed to true partnership with local churches in sending missionaries.  Some agencies say they are committed to partnership, but in their practices they exclude local churches from any significant role in making decisions.  Just as we evaluate missionaries and fields, we will evaluate agencies.

So, please be patient, and know that generous giving makes a difference in lots of ways, including how much becomes available for missions and missions agencies.

Published in: on October 31, 2007 at 5:17 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Blessed Pastor and a new Father-in-law

Well, I am back from California and the wedding of our daughter, Rebekah, to Sean Adachi.  It was a beautiful occasion in so many ways, and you played a major part in helping it be beautiful for us.  First of all, so many of you have expressed your love and support to us in so many ways as we were preparing for this.  We had more offers of help than we could possibly take advantage of, and your prayers for us all while we were gone were felt and appreciated.

We were especially blessed by those who came to be an encouragement to our family by your presence.  John and Ginny Potter have been so close to our family for so long that it was a special blessing that they could come.  But imagine our surprise to have Bill and Judy Moser, Betsy Brock, Sandy Sheridan, and Darrin Frey all come as your representatives!  The love we felt was just amazing to us, and gave us a chance to brag on all of you to our California friends as well as our families who were there.

And then there were all the cards and gifts sent by so many to the bride and groom, and some of you sending us special notes and gifts just to say you care.   Seldom have we ever felt so loved and appreciated.  It was as overwhelming as it was  humbling. 

We were welcomed by friends there, and our family members who came, too.  Kathy had a week to spend with Rebekah and Sean during final preparations, and Christine arrived Wednesday evening.  But Nathan and I had to wait until Saturday to get there, so for me at least, it was a whirlwind right up to the ceremony.

Did I make it through?  Yes, the Lord gave me gladness manifested in smiles of joy without tears of joy–I was able to talk without choking up!  It was not a long ceremony, as the two of them had chosen a simple service to go along with a beautiful and simple outdoor setting.  The bride was beautiful, the groom handsome and smiling broadly, the wedding party including an absolutely gorgeous sister of the bride, and a mother of the bride looking radiantly beautiful and escorted down the aisle by her handsome son!  The reception was at the home of some of our oldest (not in age, but in duration) friends from Santa Clarita, and gave us a chance to rejoice, celebrate, catch up with many, and send the bride and groom on their way.

I’ll tell one story:  90 minutes before takeoff, we opened the boxes with the bouquets of lilies to find them–dead.  Dead lilies are not what you want to see the ladies carrying.  Kathy, Christine and I dashed to a nearby florist, which was closed, then to an Alberstons (a grocery store) with a floral department.  We asked the lady there for HELP!  Rebekah said if there were no lilies to go with deep red roses.  No lilies were present, so for the next 30 minutes the lady behind the counter created a bridal bouquet and two bridesmaid’s bouquets from red roses, baby’s breath, selected greenery, and ribbon.  I had taken the girls back for pictures and other preliminaries, so had to offer opinions when asked on what looked good.  Fortunately I had some good marching orders, and showed up 28 minutes before the ceremony with three new, lovely bouquets.  It was another first for me as a pastor, let alone father of the bride!

Kathy and I don’t know how to say thank you to all of you, but we do want you to know how much we appreciate your care.  In our case at least, the feeling of experiencing being loved by this body of believers is STRONG.  We love you, too, and hope to be able to show it in tangible ways in days ahead.  How blessed we are!

Published in: on October 19, 2007 at 8:32 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Strong, the Weak, and the Carnal

This past Sunday I tried to lay out, in our discussion of submission to one another, how mutual submission works in cases of strong and weak believers in the context of Romans 14-15.  The basic principles were:

1.  The strong bear with the failings of the weak (14:1).  This means that those who are mature will recognize weak, immature expressions of faith, and will love these believers by not purposely disregarding the concerns of the weak.  If a strong believer is in the presence of a weak believer who thinks Christians cannot eat meat or drink wine (the two are the examples of “weak” beliefs in 14:21), then the strong will not eat meat or drink wine in their presence, nor will they argue with them about their opinions–these are not important issues over which to cause division in the body.

This passage leads to two further principles that I tried to make clear:

2.  The weak do not recognize that they are weak, but believe that they are holding to that which the Lord (through the Bible in our case) teaches.  That is what is meant when it says “he believes” these things in 14:2.  They may, in fact, believe that they are standing for the truth of Scripture and not see themselves as weak, but strong!

3.  If a person recognizes that his or her view is not required by Scripture, but then seeks to force that view on others, he is not acting as a weak brother, but as a carnal one.  “Carnal” means “of the flesh” as opposed to “of the Spirit, and activity that promotes self will is carnality.  In this case, someone is making his own preference a requirement for other believers.  And the Bible condemns making the opinions or precepts of men equal in authority to the word of God (Matthew 15:1-9). 

What I have just described is one basic distinction between biblical Christianity and legalism.  Take meat eating as an example.  The Bible clearly allows it, but a life long vegetarian may have been taught the belief that meat eating is a sin.  When that person comes to Christ, he may still carry his anti-meat bias with him.  You or I (as stronger and more mature in our understanding of Scripture) can love him practically by not making that an issue with him and not eating meat in his presence.  We may still eat meat privately.  If he were to ask me point blank, “do you eat meat,” I would tell the truth, and I would also seek to help him understand that I do so only because the Bible allows it and seems to bless it:  seen in Genesis 9:3, the allowance of meat in the Law, and the declaring of all foods clean through Christ’s words in the gospels and Peter’s vision in Acts.  To help him grow, I would even consider saying, “I’ll tell you what.  I won’t eat meat while the two of us look at Scripture to see if we can come to a clear understanding of what is allowed and not allowed by God.” 

Let’s say that he came to understand that the Scripture does not prohibit meat eating, but he still doesn’t feel right about it.  First, he should not violate his own conscience in the matter (Rom 14:5, 23).  Second, he should not judge those who eat meat without guilt (Rom. 14:3-4, 13).  As long as he can do this, there is no problem.

BUT, if he says, “I know the Bible may allow it, but it is cruel, and it is unhealthy, and people get high cholesterol and clogged arteries from it and die, so it’s wrong and no Christian should consider themselves free to do it,” then there is a problem.  Our friend is now making his opinions (valid though some may be) binding on others’ behavior without having Scriptural authority to do so.  And that is sin against brothers and sisters in Christ.

Let me go further and give a real life example we have faced here. 

This strong/weak/carnal issue relates to why some have a problem with me related to my beliefs about consuming alcohol.  I do not drink alcohol.  It has never been my practice, and I have made the decision that it will not be my practice to do so.  Further, I believe that our culture has shown an addictive pattern that has meant we often find ourselves enslaved to things that do not enslave people in other cultures to the same extent.  I know that many Christians and non Christians might have a problem with seeing me, as a pastor, drink alcohol.  And I know that if I never drink, I never run the risk of drunkenness.  These are my personal choices and practices through which I believe I can best honor God in this matter.  These are also the point of view from which I have counseled others and raised my children.

But the Bible does not forbid the use of all alcohol.  Drinking wine was standard practice in Bible times, and that wine contained alcohol (A simple word study will show that the same word for “wine” is used where Jesus turned water into it, and we are told not to be drunk with it.  “New wine,” a term used in Acts 2 to describe the accusation against the apostles at Pentecost, obviously was also alcoholic, as they were being labeled as babbling as you would when under the influence.  Those who have tried to teach that Bible characters drank only grape juice have no historical or linguistic support).  The Bible condemns drunkenness, warns against strong drink, and says that those who linger long over wine are fools.  Overuse and abuse of wine is a sin, but wine is also spoken of positively in biblical descriptions of joy, feasting, and blessing (we saw that in Ecclesiastes, and a quick concordance check using the word “wine” will prove it further).  So it cannot be maintained that drinking alcohol is sin.  If someone points to 19th century temperance preachers as having justifications for teetotalism as the only biblical view, I would respond that preachers have often erred based on cultural situations.  Temperance preachers were a historical phenomenon among Christians in America and England, arising when drunkenness was a national crisis.  Such preaching did not emerge among Christians in Europe at the same time, or in Africa and Asia as Christianity took root there.  And some 19th century preachers gave biblical justification for American slavery before the Civil War and denying women the right to vote near the turn of the century.

So, I cannot teach that the Bible forbids alcohol, nor can I prove from Scripture that using alcohol makes one unable to hold membership in the local church.  As you know, when I became pastor I asked the deacons to remove that prohibition from our membership application, and they did so.

Now I have been accused by some (and they have said it to me personally) of “promoting drinking alcohol.”  I reject that claim, for I have never promoted it.  One person told me that I must believe that I could sit in in a casino in Vegas with a cocktail and glorify God.  Now, that conjures up a very strange picture of me in the mind, but at no time could anything I have said or done ever be interpreted in that way by any fair assessment.

What I do promote is this:  we should allow believers, strong or weak, to make choices about their behaviors based on the clear teaching of the Word of God, as they understand it.  We who are stronger will lovingly help the true weak toward maturity.  In those cases where they progress slowly, those of us who are stronger will submit to their weakness by limiting our own personal freedom in order to demonstrate our maturity and our desire to maintain harmony in the body.  We will call “sin” whatever the Bible calls “sin.”  We will allow those who choose to abstain from biblically permissible items or activities to do so to God’s glory, and those who choose not to abstain from them to also do so to God’s glory.  One group will not judge the other.  That is the heart of Romans 14, and it is the heart of Jesus.   As a church, we will be careful about not trying to force one side or the other of such choices upon the whole body–those who choose to abstain will not find it hard to do so here, and those who choose not to abstain will not find it hard to exercise their personal freedom.  We will let the Holy Spirit and the Word of God be the convicting and directing agents in these matters.

Published in: on October 3, 2007 at 4:32 pm  Comments (4)