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Archive for the ‘Missions’ Category

A little over a week ago, I had the blessing to spend two days with pastors and their spouses in Juarez, Mexico.  I mentioned a little about it here.

As I have reflected on my time there and the relationships God continued and some that were begun, I have been drawn to pray for one couple in particular.  On Saturday morning of the retreat, sitting around the breakfast table, I listened to a couple who are struggling with a true dilemma.  They explained their situation.  The church in which he pastors is growing and they both feel God is blessing their work in the church.  But on another front, they have witnessed a terrible crime, they believe to be related to the violence that has plagued their city for the past six years.  If they approach the authorities, they will become targets themselves.  If they say nothing, they feel they are not fulfilling their ethical responsibility for justice.

While much of the communication was through a translator, I understand enough Spanish that I could pick up most of what they were saying.  But the anguish and concern they both displayed transcended any language barrier that might have been present.  The tears shed at that table over that hour were real.

I have continued to think about this couple and their situation and ask myself what I would do if I were in their situation.  I have to honestly say, I am not sure.  When I think about the fact that God promises to be with us always then I think, maybe I would stick it out.  Then I think about Jesus’ words pertaining to dealing with the world when he said to be as wise a serpents and gentle as doves.  God gave us a brain to be able to discern what is best.

What would you do?

Regardless of our answer, the main point I would make today regarding this story, is that I am reminded that here in the US, we really don’t have a clue as to what kind of persecution is happening around the world.  We struggle with carpet colors for the hallways or what temperature to keep the thermostat set on in the worship center so that the fewest people complain.  We wonder why people choose to have their children so involved in sports that they no longer have time for church activities.  And while they are frustrations, we really have no clue what real struggles are like.  We have it so easy.

Father, forgive me for my shallow faith.  Forgive me for being concerned about things that don’t really matter when all around me, people are struggling and need your hope and your salvation.  Make me a light today!

Amen

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Life is not back to normal (whatever that is) but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.  For the last month and a half, we have been undergoing a face lift at the church.  Most of the ground floor of our main building has been remodeled.  That has meant relocating offices, putting up with a lot of noise, a lot of interruptions and a ton of dust.  But other than a little counter top work, tile flooring and some cleaning, we can see the end.

One of the things that God has reminded me through this process is that it is really easy to get into a rut and miss ministry opportunities.  By being forced into a new work mode, I have seen things differently.  I have been reminded that things don’t need to stay the same.  We must never forget the past and the tradition, and those who have given their blood, sweat, tears and prayer to build what we have – both in the physical sense but also the spiritual sense.  But while we must strive to honor our heritage, we cannot live in it.

Our world changes daily.  In fact, the old concept of developing a 5 and 10 year long range plan is not applicable any longer.  The best we can hope for is developing a direction that will carry us for the next 24 months (and that is pushing it).

In order for the church to fulfill her mission – the calling to share the Gospel with the world – she has to remain relevant – and yes, that includes our facilities.  I realize that some of the changes we are making are different for those who have called 1st B their church home for 40 to 50 years, but the mission has not changed.  The Gospel is the same today as it was 100 years ago.  And the demand of the Great Commission is still the driving force of what we do.  We have just tweaked the system of delivery and operation.

God is at work, we just have to join him in what he is already doing!

Be blessed today!

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Last Friday and Saturday I had the opportunity to be blessed beyond measure.  On Friday morning, 25 pastors from Juarez, Mexico and the surrounding colonias made their way with their spouses to a hotel in Juarez for a two day retreat.  As the couples came through the door into the meeting room, I recognized some of their faces from last year’s event.  There were some new faces as well.  But they all had at least one thing in common – they were all happy to be there.  It was a reunion of sorts.

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The focus of this year’s retreat was centered around spiritual formation.  We hosted sessions on prayer and spiritual practices.  We also had sessions on the things we carry as pastors and the fact that we have to find ways to lighten our load from time to time.  All of the sessions were done well and the pastors and their spouses benefited greatly.

But this year, the aspect of the retreat that seemed to grab my attention most was the benefit of having time to leave the worries of the ministry at home and just be around other couples who are experiencing the same struggles.  The fellowship was amazing.  The laughter and tears around the tables at the meals captured my attention.  And on Friday night, after our big banquet, the couples gathered to play games.  What was fun to watch (because I did not understand much of what was happening) was the fact that nearly all the couples participated in games they had played as children.  In the same room we had pastors who have been serving churches for 45 plus years and pastors who are just getting started.  But all were laughing and having fun together.

It hit me that given the stress these families are under on a day to day basis, they do not have the opportunity to simply enjoy life and enjoy fellowship.  I will share later this week, some of the stories of these couples and the stress they are under.  It should be a matter of prayer for all of us.

I was reminded of how important this retreat is in the lives of these ministers.  God is at work in Juarez – even in the midst of the violence.  And these couples have chosen to stay and minister – even when it is not easy – or even safe.

Remember to pray for Mexico.

Have a very blessed today!

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Last week I was inspired.  We can often see how God’s hand has moved in the past if we slow down and look.  But it is far more difficult to see God moving in the here and now.  There are just too many distractions.  We are focused on making it through the day in one piece.  We are striving to live in a manner worthy of the name Christian.  And so we get wrapped up in doing good and we fail to see God working all around us.

So when we actually see God at work right before our eyes, it takes our breath away – or at least that is my experience.

Last week, I received an email from a young lady telling me that her 2nd grade daughter had been moved to come up with a way to help those less fortunate than herself.  She decided that she could make bracelets and sell them for $2 and give the money to help provide food for those who might otherwise not have enough to eat.  For the past few months, she has been making bracelets and selling them.  She now had enough money that she wanted to get my opinion on how best to put that money to work to help with the hunger relief ministry in our church.

This little 2nd grader wanted to give the money to help with our Snack Pack ministry – a ministry that provides a bag of healthy snacks to kids who need it in our school system.  The bags are secretly placed in the child’s backpack each Friday so that he or she will have something to eat over the weekend.

I suggested to the young mom that this money could go to buy special treats that would be out of the ordinary for what typically goes into the bags – something special provided by her daughter.  She loved the idea.

So when she picked up her daughter from school, they came straight to the church.  I was standing in the hall when the front door flew open and this saintly little blonde 2nd grader marched in and right up to me.  She thrust her hand straight out holding a roll of cash – smiling from ear to ear.  Her mother explained that she had told her daughter she could hold some money back to buy herself a little something as a reward for a job well done (a suggestion that made sense to me).  But the little girl decided that the kids receiving the bags needed it more than she did – so she gave it all – $55.00.

As I took the money from her hand and looked at the smile on her face I thought to myself, “If only others could ‘get it’ like she does!”  I was inspired to do more – to love more fully – to give more earnestly – to offer myself more sacrificially.  And it was the heart of a 2nd grader that moved me.

God calls each of us to do what we can to be true to our faith and live in a manner worthy of our calling.

What will you do today to live for Jesus?

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Give It Away

What brings fulfillment?  Where do you find meaning?  Is it landing that job you have wanted for months or even years?  Is that when you will be satisfied?  Or maybe when you get that degree and get that schooling out of the way.  Once you have that diploma, will you be content then?

Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychologist survived the Holocaust and lived to write about his experience with the human condition.  He authored several books but the one that still sells today is Man’s Search for Meaning.  In his book, he came to the conclusion that the way to find the meaning for your life is to help someone else find the meaning for theirs.  Jesus had said something similar almost 2,000 years before when he said, “if we will lose our life for his sake we will find it.”  In other words, life – true, meaningful and purposeful life – only exists when we give it away.  It is in committing ourselves to a cause or another outside ourselves that we find meaning.

What I have found is that when I go looking for meaning, it is like trying to hold water in my hands – illusive and impossible to grasp.  But when I seek to focus my devotion on loving and serving God – meaning finds me.

If you would have fulfillment, you will find it in serving.

Go be a blessing today!

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Last week I was silent here.  I did not post, I did not Tweet and I didn’t do much with Facebook.  I was virtually unplugged.

The reason?

Last week, a group from our church and a sister church in a neighboring town made a trip to the El Paso area to do a little construction.

I have to tell you.  I have led many trips over the years, 8 of which have been specifically construction trips.  The team that God assembled for this most recent trip was one of the very best I have ever had the opportunity to work along side.

We took 14 very able, very dedicated and very passionate folks to get this building done.  We arrived on Friday, March 8, at 4:00 PM, and this is what we saw:

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We drove away at 7:00 PM on Monday, March 11, and this is what we left behind:

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God is good!  Only one minor injury (you know how to define a minor injury don’t you – when it happens to someone else).  We had one gentleman catch a nail from a nail gun with his thigh.  At first he thought something hit his pants leg.  But he soon realized the nail went a bit deeper than the denim.  But after a little triage, he was back to work in about 20 minutes – that’s a real man!

Seriously, God did amazing work protecting and strengthening.  There is no way a project like this can happen as smoothly as it did without God’s divine intervention.

I thank God for taking care of us and I thank the folks that went as part of the “Weapons of Mass Construction” team.  What an honor and privilege God afforded me to be a small part of this effort.

God’s Kingdom will be extended through the work you provided!

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I wrestle with things a lot.  If you have been stopping by Clay In The Hands for much time at all, you have probably figured out (at least I hope you have) that I try not to take things at face value or just accept things and move on.  I have always been that way.  I want to know why. I want to know what makes things tick.

Just about every week I read somewhere that our world today is as spiritual – or maybe more so – than ever before but while being very spiritual, the world is very anti-religion.  I have to tell you – I wrestle with this idea all of the time.  And I have to admit, I agree.  I see it in the fact that few people are “joiners” anymore.  When I go to denominational meetings, I am usually one of the youngest there (and I am not all that young any more).  I serve with an ecumenical organization for church administration and we see it there as well.  This generation does not see the point in “joining” an organization – or of being a part of something bigger – at least not something that has been established for any time at all.

This wrestling inevitably leads me to the question, “Why?”.  Why is it that people don’t see being a part of a local church as important?

Today, I ran across this verse that I think sheds some light on the situation.  1 Corinthians 1:23 says, “but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”

This is not a new problem.  The apostle Paul explained that to those outside the faith, this stuff just seems foolish.  But as I continue to dig, I can remember a time in my own short 47 years that it was not so.  I mean, I know there have always been those that just don’t see the point.  But I can remember a time when being a part of the church was the accepted and almost expected norm in a community – at least here in the Bible belt.

So what happened?  I think I can sum it up in one word – relevance.

Our society is a consumer based, “me” driven culture.  The prevailing question is always, “What do I get for that?”  If I invest my time and effort and commitment, what do I get in return?

This prevailing attitude is a subject for another post.  But this is the reality in which we find ourselves.

So what is the answer?  I wish I had a three step strategy that would turn our world around – I don’t.  But I do have an idea.  As “Sunday School” as this answer sounds, the answer is Jesus.

Wait, don’t quit reading yet!  Yes, that is the easy answer but hear me out.

The answer is Jesus and what he has done in your life.  You see, if we are going to show the world that this Jesus stuff is not foolishness, the only way to do that is by showing the difference Jesus has made in your life – to tell your story.  It’s a matter of relevance.  If a person does not see how something applies to them, they won’t give it a second look.

But when they see changed lives and they can relate to how that change could impact them, then all of the sudden, this Jesus stuff seems like it might be important.

We have become complacent and satisfied with the status quo and it is killing the church.

What has Jesus done in your life?  Show that difference today in the way you live.

It is really hard to stare a changed life in the face and call it foolishness.

Tell somebody about it! 

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A Long Time Coming

Last night I had the opportunity to not only watch but also participate in something that has been a dream of a couple of people for six years.

It was refreshing to hear their story again and see all the people that gathered to celebrate with them.  Refreshing because two people are following through on a dream – a calling.

Six years ago, Mike and Arlene committed to one another and to God that they would be available to go to Costa Rica as missionaries.  They began to pray and recruit others to pray.

They did all the right things to get organized and ready for their journey.  Then the difficult task began of raising their support.  And for the last several years, that has been their day to day endeavor.

Last night, as their home church, we commissioned them to go and now tomorrow, they will board a plane for Costa Rica to begin a two year mission there.

God is faithful!  At times I am sure it didn’t seem like it would ever happen – but God’s timing is not always our timing.

Mike and Arlene – go with God and take God’s message to those who need to hear it!

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Simply Faithful

Monday and Tuesday of this week, I had the pleasure and privilege of giving a tour.  There were 8 ministers from our area that loaded up in a van and drove 6 hours to El Paso on Monday morning.  We went so that churches in our area could get to know a minister in Clint, just east of El Paso, and hear his vision for their church and the surrounding area.

That was the focus of the trip.

But yesterday morning, on our way out of town, we decided to stop by another ministry just a little further east in Fabens, Texas.  A church has a dormitory there where mission groups can stay at ridiculously affordable rates when they go to the are to do mission work.  We wanted these leaders to see where they might stay if their churches were to decide to take a group back to the area to work.

But another thing this church in Fabens sponsors is a ministry called Crossing Borders.  This is a ministry that provides food staples to pastors who live their lives ministering just across the border in Mexico.

For 11 years, this ministry has been dedicated to serving those pastors.  But over time it has expanded to not only providing food for the pastors and their families, but also giving enough food to them that they can go back and give food to people in their congregations as well.

Every Tuesday morning, a team of volunteers gather in the church fellowship area and begin bagging rice and beans as well as other groceries.  Then, throughout the morning, pastors make the trek across the border to pick up their allotment.  At 10:00 am, one of the pastors will lead a Bible study for the workers and any one else from the community who would like to attend.

This goes on every week.  As we watched this process happening and listened to the two saintly ladies who serve as domestic missionaries in this ministry, it became clear to me.

So often, we in our churches, talk about doing ministry.  We pray about it.  We organize it.  And occasionally we may actually do something – an event or an emphasis.  But as I watched the work going on right in front of me and realized the number of lives this ministry would touch, what kept running through my mind was “they are actually doing it.”  One of the gentlemen on the trip, as we climbed back in the van to come home said it best, “They are getting it done.”

It wasn’t flashy.  There weren’t any media personnel there taking pictures or doing interviews.  This is just a simple ministry that gathers every Tuesday morning – and has for 11 years – to meet the needs of people.

God has called us all to do our part – regardless of how simple or menial it may seem.

Stay faithful to that calling today!

(If you want to learn more about Crossing Borders Ministries, you can check them out here.)

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You know how we pastor types can be – always looking for the cutting edge ideas and surfing the web for cool church websites.  When we have the opportunity to visit another church we do so like spies in a foreign land, taking notes on how we are greeted and how the service is conducted.  Mind you, we don’t do this in an adversarial role – we just like to see what other churches do and glean ideas.  We watch the people to see how they interact with others – both their guests and their family members.  It can often be very enlightening.

So let me tell you about one of the most awesome churches i have ever encountered.

I had the opportunity last night to observe over 100 people from this particular church, open their doors and invite the community to a fully prepared, fully served, fully free, sit-down Thanksgiving dinner.

Places were set for 400 guests.  The food was prepared all day in anticipation of the event.

When the doors opened, I watched countless servants welcome and seat the guests.  Others were immediately at the tables getting tea or water for the guests.

Behind the scenes there were two service lines making plates that were then handed to a crowd of servers who carried the plates with a welcoming smile to the guests.  As the folks finished their meals, there were literally teams of people to bus the tables and make sure the guests had what they needed.

I was blown away by not only the number of folks who committed their time to serve but also by the attitudes with which they worked.  Rarely does a pastor get to see such service in action – it was amazing and a true gift from God.

I am always looking for sources of inspiration and illustrations I can use in my writing and speaking.  I was truly blessed to be able to observe and witness such an outpouring of God’s love by so many believers at one time in one place.

But the most humbling thing about this experience was that it occurred at our church.  This act was carried out by the people God has allowed me to serve and I got the opportunity to literally watch God at work.

It was a picture of an awesome church serving an amazing God!

I am so blessed!

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