Ministry Thoughts

Sensational II

I'd like to follow-up on an earlier post about Sensationalism.

It is obvious that sensationalism sells.  If not, people would not continue to use it.  Newsletters scream, using extreme words "Coldest Winter Ever..." or "Give Now So The Next Girl Won't Be Lost."  It gets results in the immediate.

And I think there IS a place for sensationalism!  Perhaps that is not the word I'd use though.  To me, sensationalism is defined as exploited a legitimate cause for the sake of self-benefit, with a leaning toward grandstanding.  It creates a cause rather than caring for the dignity of the individual. 

There is a concept that is legitimate.  Perhaps sense-appealing is more of the idea.  We need to engage the senses of people, jarring them out of their comfort zones.  Too often, people spend more time worrying about the price raise of their latte than on girls who are being sold into prostitution.  I want to jar the church out of apathy and into action.

But I must maintain integrity and dignity.

Integrity means that my newsletters stand the scrutiny of people close to the issue.  Trust me, I've seen plenty of exaggerations in the Christian world too, stories of needs and miracles that just were not the whole picture.

Dignity means protecting the individual.  Trafficking is just one arena that we see a lot of exploitation.  When people have a young girl stand in front of the audience while they tell her horrific story, that is exploitation.  Even if she shares it herself, I am very skeptical.  Honor the girl and give her dignity.

Can we speak to the senses while still maintaining integrity and human dignity?  Yes!  And we should hold each other to those kind of standards. 

What are your thoughts and comments?


Pride

Today I read about two contrasting situations of pride versus submission.  My Bible reading covered both stories, even though they were hundreds of pages and years apart.  And it is interesting that the Bible tells the same stories that still plague us today.

The first story was about Miriam and Aaron, Moses’ brother and sister.  The two of them had a complaint that Moses was getting all the credit, and that everyone should realize that God had spoken through them as well (Numbers 12).

“Look at me!  He’s not the only important one!”

Pride.  Ego.  Failure to submit.

Then I read John 1, the example of John the Baptist.  As a preacher, he was the tops of the time, with huge crowds coming around to hear him.  Yet as soon as Jesus showed up, he was more than willing to say “He’s the One.”  He knew he was second-fiddle, and was content with that.  He submitted to his role, happy to let God ordain whom He wanted.

Pride has always been a key sin, if not THE big sin.  From the fall of Lucifer to the fall of Adam and Eve, pride has played the key role.  We just can’t help wanting to be noticed, wanting the power and influence, and wanting the recognition that we are as good as someone else.

Thoughts like:

    “He just got lucky.  I could do a better job that him.”
    “I don’t have to listen to her.  I know better what is right for me.”
    “I don’t respect him so I don’t have to listen to him.”
    “She’s got faults herself.  Why should I submit to her authority.”

Yet learning to submit to God’s will is also learning to submit to imperfect leaders.  Not is a cultish manner, where anything the leader says must be obeyed, but with a recognition that God has placed leaders around us.  How can we respond with a godly heart, learning spirit, and submissive attitude?

How can we become more like John the Baptist?


Creative Partners

I think it is always amazing how can brings people together utilizing their gifts to build His body.  I know it is a biblical principle, something you can read about in the Apostle Paul's letters.  But it still amazes me.

I am amazed at the way that God brought Aaron and Gina into contact with us.  Aaron is an incredible web designer, and he is working on helping us create the website for the Freedom Home.  He has the skills and the heart to reach women who have been trafficked.  He is using his skills to accomplish a part of it.

Or a friend in Montana who has a degree in design and photography.  She volunteered to give us a hand with design and layout.  She is using a logo designed by another friend, tweaking it and working with it to help us get printed materials.

We each have something to offer to God.  Giving is not just about money.  It is about offering yourself, all of you--your talents, your skills, your spiritual gifts, your time.

I cannot wait to see what our friends come up with in regards to each of these areas.  But what is important is that we have an ever-expanding team of people that has a part of this work.

Glad to be a part of the body of Christ.


Did God Cause My Battery to Die?

We had one of those interesting days yesterday, a few moments of complete frustration. 

We had gone to church Sunday morning, a nice cold winter morning.  Amazing enough, I was able to park across the street from the church, backing up next to the fence.

We enjoyed the morning service (and I didn't even have to preach!).  Matthew Skirton did a great job on the message (so they tell me, it was in Romanian and I didn't understand a word).  We said "amen," talked with friends for awhile, then headed out to drive home.

And the car was dead.  Stone cold dead.

It was my fault.  I had left the headlights on.  We are required by law to drive with the lights on continuously, and I had just not noticed.

And the jumper cables were not in the car.  The vehicle had been cleaned out, and they were somewhere in the garage.  So I borrowed the pastor's wife's vehicle, drove home and grabbed the bag where I THOUGHT the cables were.  Turned out they weren't there either.  So at this point, I was getting really frustrated.

A friend jumped back in the car to go get cables somewhere else and I was left standing...irritated.

In the meantime, Nancy had decided to walk down the street to the grocery store to get a few groceries.  While I was frustratedly waiting, she walks up with a friend on her arm.  She had run into her standing next to the road, praying for help.

Our friend doesn't have good eyesight, and somehow had gotten mixed up, totally unaware how to get home.  To top it off, when Nancy did walk her to her house, she realized she didn't have a key to get in!  She ended up coming home with us to spend the afternoon until her parents arrived back to town.

She told Nancy, "I had just prayed to God to send someone my way to help me home."

So my question: was my frustrating hour due to God?  Did my dead battery come due to our friend's prayer?  Can our problems really be an answer to prayer?


Thanksgiving II

It's an early morning in Moldova.  The sky is still pitch black.  The wind in howling outside.  The schnauzer is trying to sneak back up to our room and jump in bed with Nancy (and I keep telling her no).

Yes, it is a perfect morning.

The early morning hours are my time.  I have at least 1 1/2 hours before anyone will be up.  The coffee is near at hand, and my mind can be still and thoughtful.  These hours are my favorite.

My mind is very thankful this morning.  I feel like I am too unappreciative of the things that surround my life, the people that have blessed me.  I wonder what my list could be like if I had the time and opportunity to say thanks to everyone who has been a part of my life?

I'm so thankful for:

  • Karol Pruett; just passed away this week, a premature loss to the world.  She led the first team we ever had in Moldova, a friend, and will be sorely missed.
  • Ron and Sharon Nason, Helena friends that have wired our house, built churches, ministered at Freedom Home, but more than anything, have helped me learn that I can be an imperfect missionary and can still be loved. (and they didn't even realize that they were showing me that).
  • Steve Scrabeck, my pastor from youth (since passed away) that is probably the reason I'm in ministry today.  I remember no sermons, but remember the hours he hauled us youth around.
  • Mom and Dad Horn; for their never-ending support of us in ministry, even when they had different opinions (like getting those grandkids closer!).  I never questioned their love, even if we were disagreeing.  I really miss Mom.
  • Mom and Dad Raatz--my parents, who set a good example for me for work and life, faithfulness in church and high standards in learning.  Mom read thousands of books to me before I was even five years old, and I can easily blame her for my current reading addiciton.
  • George Burgin, then pastor of Laurel Assembly of God, for being my very first church service as a missionary!
  • John and Joann, the coffee they surprise us with in Moldova is nice, but not that important (well, at 5 am, it really IS important).  I am just thankful for people that like us, and believe in us, and care more for us that just a 2-minute missions story. 
  • John Bouchard, who still has to call me "Pastor," even though I'm no longer his pastor.  I'm thankful for the hundreds of hours we bounced in his pickup, hunting coyotes or shed antlers, talking about faith and God.
  • Travis Schuchard, who let me have the courtside seat to the miracle of seeing God change his life, and whose letter to me after I left Harlowton still sits in my office.
  • Jeb Bubb, Peter Hanson, and Matt Nelson, once three 7-grade boys in our youth group.  I got to see them grow from that mental scene to men in ministry, ranging from pastors to Bible school ministry.  Do you how cool it is to be able to see that?  I'm thankful that I could see a tiny little sliver of that miracle.
  • My wife--who someone still likes listening to my sermons, puts up with my faults, and doesn't let my stubborness drive her to insanity.
  • My three beautiful girls, their smiles, their joy, and their love for me, for God, and for Moldova.

I had no idea what I would write when I started listing names.  I forced myself to stop, becuase there are a few hundred other names that could be written, all people that blessed me in some way.  Some of the names are even forgotten, but the person is not.

I guess this Thanksgiving is different for me.  I am not really thanksful for food, or football, or finances, or possessions. 

I am thankful for people.


We don’t want you in the dark, friends, about how hard it was when all this came down on us in Asia province. It was so bad we didn’t think we were going to make it. We felt like we’d been sent to death row, that it was all over for us. As it turned out, it was the best thing that could have happened. Instead of trusting in our own strength or wits to get out of it, we were forced to trust God totally—not a bad idea since he’s the God who raises the dead!  (2 Co 1:8–9)
--Eugene H. Peterson, The Message

I like this passage of Scripture.  I know there are a few people who get bent out of shape over The Message, but it is a refreshing paraphrase that I often read in parallel to my NIV.  It makes some ideas pop off the page, and this is one of the phrases.  (and if you are one of those that gets bent out of shape, take a deep breath and relax.  Sheesh.  Aren't there more important things to get worked up over?)

Paul had some DARK times, difficulties that you and I can rarely comprehend.  It was so tough that Paul was unsure whether he would survive.  That is not one of those exagerrating phrases ("If I don't eat this ice cream, I'm going to DIE", says the child), but a clear description of how tough it was.  Death was a strong possibility.  Prison was a reality.  It was TOUGH.

But Paul recognizes afterwards that the entire time had been a blessing.  It was one of those times where he could NOT depend on his abilities and cleverness.  He had to depend on God.

We have a few situations like that now:

    -a girl at Freedom Home that needs to move out on her own, still a corrosive personality.  Her hurts are deep, and how can leaders show grace and mercy to her?  They need to learn that kind of grace.

    -the well-drilling rig is still not perfected, and we are still scratching our heads on how to get that thing figured out.  Trying get deeper through a water layer, fighting casing that keeps getting stuck, and more. 

    -an entire young demographic that we are unsure of how to reach, but realize that they are missing from the churches.  How can we do something that is beyond our strength and wit?

I know our situations are not survival issues, but they are beyond our strength and wit.  We need God.

The interesting thing is that "as it turned out, it is....the best thing that can happen to us" when we are out on a limb, beyond our abilities and strengths. 


Can I Get A Raincheck?

I am sitting in my office, waiting for a phonecall. That call with mean one thing...I need to go to Freedom Home for one of those conversations I'd rather avoid.  It looks like we need to ask one of the residents to leave.

Seems strange to do something like that, but she has crossed the line of threatening one more time.  We've done intervention, group and individual confrontation, defined the acceptable behavior over and over again.  But the key value is that the Home is not just for her benefit, but for everyone else too. 

Can I get a raincheck on this meeting today?

I've had that thought before.  When I pastored, I had a few Sundays that I wish I could have taken a raincheck.  I still have a few Sunday afternoons, when 3 pm rolls around and I know I need to head out to set up for the International service.  Or when the alarm rings at 6 am and I know I need to drive three hours on Moldova's lousy roads.

I've wanted rainchecks on some tough conversations.  There was one time where I had to call someone on their lack of submission, on their lousy and sinful attitude.  I once had to confront someone on their devisive theology, trying to get them to stop tearing the church apart.

I once had to visit a couple in the ER, standing together with them with their baby that had just died of SIDS.  I've talked to rebellious teens, unfaithful spouses, and a deacon with an integrity issue.

I sure wish I could have pulled out the raincheck on all of those!

But leadership means we step up and face the issue.  You can't postpone it forever.

So pray for me in my issue today.  And pray for yourself, that you will do the same.  We need people who will step up and quick looking for the easy out.

  • Ask your pastor today where he or she needs help...and do it.
  • Get your body out of bed this Sunday and get to the service...and the Sunday after, and the Sunday after....
  • Honor your commitment, even when you don't feel like it.
  • Read a book to your child, even if you'd rather watch ESPN.

I know far too many "spiritual kids" who look for the easy route, not ready to take responsibility.  It isn't easy, and God knows that I skirted more than one issue in my life.  But for the Church to impact this world (and your community), we need men and women who will stand up and say

"Here I am--today--ready for action."


Value

_D2X9589I am confronted with value every day in Moldova.  The moment I drive through Chisinau, I drive past a myriad of signs like the one on the right, listing today's exchange rate.  I know each day how many lei I will receive for my dollar.  When the number drops, everything is more expensive for me.  When it rises, I know I have greater buying power.

But I see that same pressure each day in a different way.  Our world reveals its system of values by the way it treats people. 

  • When the elderly are dumped into a scummy building, they are valued at "dispensible."
  • When a woman is valued if she has plastic surgery enhancements, she is valued as "merchandise."
  • When a child is neglected or abused, they are valued as "incidental" and "second class."

When I sit with a girl at the Freedom Home, our society might have written her off as used property, but I don't.  If that was the case, then we all are just used property.

We all are broken.  We all have sinned.  We all are imperfect.

I want to show each girl that they are valuable, simply because they are made in the image of God.  They are valuable because they are loved by God...and by us!  Their rate doesn't go up and down daily, but it is stuck at "priceless."

Are you treating people with value today?  What value are your actions showing?  Do you treat your neighbor, co-worker, or family member as "priceless?"  What does your checkbook reveal about your values?  Are you valuing coffee more than missions, clothes more than children?

What is your currency exhange board showing of your life?

 


Vision

DSC_1503_tonemapped I have been wrestling a lot with vision for the last few weeks, trying to get a peace and direction for Moldova, the ministry, and the opportunities. It has been a tough time personally, with an unsettleness in my spirit.  THAT is not normal for me!

I've always approached things with the idea of "what is the possibility" rather than "these are the obstacles."  I see the horizon of what can happen, and even though I don't know all the details of how to get there, I start moving.  In hunting terms, when I see the target ahead, I rarely have problems squeezing the trigger! 

But why now?

I've prayed and journalled my thoughts.  After all, I do not want my vision, but God's vision for the work here.

I questioned if it was due to exhaustion or burnout.  Was it misguided searching, trying to find something that makes me feel good?  Is is boredom or a short attention span?  Perhaps too many focuses, and I need to narrow our focus?  Was it past problems or conflicts?  Is it God's way of bringing me through a desert, a dry time where I cannot hear His voice?

It could still be fragments of each of those things, but I think I've come to a different conclusion.

It is simply because we are at a different location that years ago, and the horizon stretching before us looks SO different.  I am staring at a different view, different challenges, different needs....and I need to adjust my eyes to a different perspective.

7 1/2 years ago, we arrived in Moldova, trying to find our place.  We were the only AGWM missionaries here, plowing our way through territory without much guidance.  We had the vision to see the kingdom of God expand and His Church grow in Moldova.

  • We had the vision to help build leaders and construct buildings.
  • 5+ years ago, the vision started to build the home and start the ministry to trafficked women.
  • Around 3 years ago, we dreamed about compassion work and clean water wells for villages.
  • We dreamed about having a team here to minister together.

And we've been able to see so much of those visions accomplished. 

  • Freedom Home is built and the ministry is getting solidified.
  • 20-30 teams have helped build and construct church buildings.
  • We have strong friendships and relationships with countless pastors.
  • The well-drilling rig is purchased, with first wells just starting to be put in.
  • We have 3 missionary associate couples here right now and 2 fully-appointed missionary families here in addition to us.

And the horizon looks so very different from this vantage point.  The plethora of paths leading before us create a different matrix than 7 years ago.  It is more complex, but with so much more potential. 

What will it look like when the vision we have for Freedom Home is closer?   When we have churches and individuals engaged in the issue, praying 24/7, 365 days a year?  When we see former residents healed enough to return and minister?  When we set the gold standard in all standards, from accounting to counseling; job skill training to discipleship? 

What will the work look like if we can partner with pastors to plant another 25, 50, or 100 churches?  What about the hundreds of villages that have no church?

What would it be like when our team becomes a TEAM?  Where we know each other's faults, but don't care?  Where we hold each other mutually accountable, pushing for high standards, but without condemnation? 

What needs and opportunities are out there that we haven't even tapped....but God sees.

It is a brand new day, with a brand new horizon.  I'm kind of excited about the day's journey.


Success 2

My thoughts yesterday on too much success have continued in my thoughts.  Thinking and clarifying things in my head this morning.

First, a friend commented on the a situation of someone who IS caring to speak, give her time, raise funds.  I was NOT trying to speak against those things.  I think that is wonderful, a fantastic example of someone DOING something.  Especially if she is being educated about the issue, wise with how she uses the funds.

[May I take a side diversion--too many people are not discerning about funds.  A good story or video moves the heart, but very few know how to ask the tough questions.  That might make a great post/dialogue--what the questions we should ask!]

I was talking more about people that ONLY talk about the issue, caring more about the issue that the individual.  If you care about the individual, you will look for opportunities to invest in the individual in your location.  If you care enough to volunteer weekly at local abuse shelters, or ministries to women, you show that you care for the person, not the issue.

Too much success?  Perhaps not.  I am amazed still at how many people do NOT know about the issue.

Too much success?  Perhaps yes.  Especially when everyone wants to do something but few want to commit to the work.

Be a part of something.  Commit to doing something.  Ask discerning questions.  And work with those that are truly making a difference.  (and not just a great video on a Christian television show).