Tag Archives: generosity

Why Didn’t You Come Sooner?

“Why Didn’t You Come Sooner?” is a collection of short stories taken from the memoirs of Richard Varberg – a long-time missionary to the Philippians with Converge Worldwide (BGC). Varberg served with distinction as an entrepreneurial missionary in the island nation of the Philippines. He and his wife headed off in 1958 with their infant son and raised a family in challenging circumstances. They left a significant legacy of a growing network of churches and second and third generation missionary family members.

It is difficult to imagine or appreciate the depth of the obstacles and challenges that they faced. Operating in a fair level of isolation it seems that they frequently had to improvise and figure things out for themselves. There certainly were no training manuals to cover the variety of situations they encountered. Drawing from his experience growing up on an Iowa farm, Varberg functioned as a mechanic, architect, and construction foreman. They were skills that served him well.

If there is one point of critique that I would raise it is the frequency in this volume of stories of conflict with Roman Catholic missionaries and priests. At times the stories seem uncomfortably reminiscent of a time when evangelical christians and catholics often found themselves at odds. There is no doubt that there was unecessary conflict and resistance exercised by catholic leaders in the establishment of a community cemetery (pp. 61-83). Even legal action was threatened and carried out against Varberg. While significant theological differences still exist today, followers of Christ can be found in both camps and many evangelicals and catholics often work together in areas where agreement exists. These stories could have been even more powerful in their impact without the distraction of an anti-catholic theme running through many of them.

“Why Didn’t You Come Sooner?” is a historical snapshot of mission work in the Philippines in the 1950’s through 1990’s. It is filled with fascinating stories of God’s grace and faithfulness in difficult – and even life-threatening – circumstances. We should be grateful to the Varberg’s and hundreds of others who served (and are serving) so faithfully to bring the Gospel to communities around the world.

“Why Didn’t You Come Sooner?” is published by the William Carey Library and is available at Amazon.

Do Nice Guys Finish Last at Gonzaga?

The “Sweet 16” teams of the 2012 NCAA tournament are set. Millions of fans watched as their favorite team(s) were eliminated over the first two rounds – including two second-seeded teams! I’ve been a Gonzaga fan for the past 17 years and have watched their annual run in the tournament for 14 of those 17 years.There have been some pretty heady moments for this ‘mid-major’ school along the way – Sweet 16 & Elite 8 appearances – and some major disappointments – like losing in the first round.

It would be easy to observe Gonzaga and their longtime coach Mark Few and level some criticisms. For example, it seems that the Zags never dominate. They win lots of games – enough to make 14 consecutive appearances in the NCAA – but often those games are much closer than they should be. Occasionally  they have lost those close games – even to teams they should have easily beaten. They sometimes allow lesser talented teams to keep the score within 2-3 possessions and rarely put them away early. Could the Zags and their coach be too nice? This is more than a single-season phenomenon. It’s something that is evident year after year.

A recent in-depth article in the Tacoma NewsTribune reported on the behind-the-scenes ‘niceness’ factor of the Zags and Coach Few. [Read article here] When you read the article you get the very real sense that the men’s basketball program at GU is about much more than winning basketball games (Coach Few does have the 2nd highest wining percentage of all active coaches!). It’s about developing men who are committed to service and generosity. It’s about leadership in the local community and using their talents to help others. So if it’s true in this case that good guys finish last, I’m okay with that!

Go Zags!!

Generous Justice

A century ago the conservative “fundamental” believers in the church came to believe that social ministries were at best a distraction from the spiritual ministry of the church if not a sign that these more liberal believers in the church had traded the true Gospel for a watered-down social gospel. This divide continued well into the 1980’s and 90’s but has recently shown signs of reversal.  Through a variety voices a new commitment to “seek justice” is emerging in churches. Timothy Keller is one of those voices.

Keller’s Generous Justice is a brief volume (189 pages) that serves as a clarion call to followers of Jesus to extend grace and justice to those in our communities who are impoverished and oppressed. In this book Keller presents a thorough and balanced study of scripture to support that call. “Like Isaiah, Jesus taught that a lack of concern for the poor is not a minor lapse, but reveals that something is seriously wrong with one’s spiritual compass, the heart.” (p. 51).  In other words, if you don’t care about the poor your spiritual health is in serious trouble!

Especially helpful are two chapters (5 & 6) that provide a strong argument for why we should do justice (Chpt 5) and how we should do justice (Chpt 6). Ministry leaders will find these two chapters to be immensely helpful in shaping and clarifying their own journey of doing justice. Second chair leaders will be able to tap into a good resource to use when coaching and mentoring. There is also good material here for small groups to wrestle with.

I personally found the final chapter – Peace, Beauty, and Justice – to be the most helpful and motivating. As one who has used the simple word “Shalom” to sign off on most of my correspondence for the past 30 years, Keller’s description of four forms of shalom breathed new life into my use of the term. He identifies physical, emotional, social, and spiritual shalom. (p. 174).

Why should you read Generous Justice? Consider Keller’s final sentence: “A life poured out in doing justice for the poor is the inevitable sign of any real, true gospel faith.” (p 189). The rest of the book serves as his basis for making that claim. Read it to find out if you agree or disagree with his. conclusion.

For a more extensive review of Generous Justice be sure to check out joelws.com

Gospel in Life

In my search for a good small group study companion to a series on outreach, I stumbled upon Tim Keller’s ‘gospel in life’ dvd and study.  It is comprehensive and both searching and practical and the dvd production quality is first-class.

The eight sessions are:
City – The World That Is
Heart – Three Ways to Live
Idolatry – The Sin Beneath The Sin
Community – The Context For Change
Witness – An Alternate City
Work – Cultivating The Garden
Justice – A People For Others
Eternity – The World That Is To Come
The series is rooted in a deeply biblical foundation of what it means to be a Christian/the Church in our world and begins by focusing on our relationship to God through Christ and why it matters to the world. Keller stresses a spiritual response to God, rather than just a religious one.  So this is not a simple “Ten Ways to Do Outreach” series (although it does guide toward specific small group’s response to addressing needs in our community). Keller frequently speaks of the ‘city’ referring not just to urban centers but wherever there is ‘a place of density, diversity, and cultural energy’ – something that is true of most of our neighborhoods and communities.
Some quotes:
Session 1 – The City
“In the city you are going to find people that appear spiritually hopeless. You’re going to find people of no religion, people of other religions, and people with deeply non-Christian lifestyles, and you’re going to discover that many of them are kinder, deeper, and wiser than you. You will also find that many of the poor and the broken are much more open to the gospel of grace and more dedicated to its practical out-working that you are.” p. 10
Session 2 -The Heart
“Why do we lie, or fail to love, or break our promises, or live selfishly? Of course, the general answer is that we are weak and sinful, but the specific answer is that there is something besides Jesus Christ that we feel we must have to happy, something that is more important to our heart than God, something that is enslaving our heart through inordinate desires.” p. 40
Session 3 – Idolatry
…there are three ways to relate to God – irreligion, religion, and the gospel. The irreligious don’t repent at all. The religious only repent of sins. But Christians repent of both their sins and their righteousness.” p. 51
Session 4 – Community
We are not simply to study the Bible as individuals; we are to read and argue and study the Bible together to come to deeper unity of faith and to consensus about how to be the people of God in our particular time and place. We are to read the Bible together until it shapes us as a distinct community. p. 66
Session 5 – Witness
The new community required by the Bible cuts across all cultures and worldviews. Put another way: it doesn’t fit any worldview but challenges them all at some point. When the gospel “enters” a culture or worldview, it therefore both challenges and affirms; it both retains and rejects. When it enter any culture, it resolves and completes its partly-true story through the gospel. p. 96
Session 6 – Work
Thank God that”…there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!” Ask God to show you ways in which you don’t represent Christ as you should in your relationships, in your workplace, in your family life, in your habits and attitudes, and in your relationships within the church. Pray also that you would be able, again within community, to learn better now to “bring the gospel into your work.” p. 103
Session 7 – Justice
Session 7 looks at how we relate to our neighbors and our neighborhood. There are many ways to donate our time, money, energy, and effort to help our neighbors. For this Home Study you will want to arrange as a group to volunteer at some form of justice or mercy ministry. Your church leadership should be able to provide you with a list of volunteer opportunities or organizations they know or with which they are associated. Below are some additional volunteer ministry opportunities. p. 104.
A sensitive social conscience and a life poured out in deeds of mercy to the needy is the inevitable sign of a person who has grasped the doctrine of God’s grace. p. 108
Session 8 – Eternity
Five attitudes toward the unbelieving, dominate culture:
1. Assimilating the city
2. Reflecting the city
3. Despising the city
4. Ignoring the city
5. Loving the city – Christians engage with the dominant culture, but in ways that reveal the distinctiveness of the values of the kingdom of God. They are at their core very different in the way they understand money, relationships, human life, sex, and so on. Christians are truly residents of the city, yet not seeking power over or the approval of the dominant culture. Rather, they show the world an alternative way of living and of being a human community. For example, they are actively involved in serving those around them in deeds of mercy and justice. Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles in chapter 29 is a good example of this. The final session also includes a comprehensive Gospel self-assessment that addresses areas of the heart, community, and the world.
Individual copies of the book with the study material for all group members are absolutely vital to gain the full experience and impact of this study. Watching the dvd and discussing the 10-minute  messages is not enough. Each session has a home study portion that should take no more than an hour to complete between group sessions. A comprehensive leaders guide is included in each book and makes up 1/3 of the book leaving the study guide to about 140 pages.
Today, the book is available on <a href=”Gospel in Life Study Guide: Grace Changes Everything"" “>Amazon for $7 ea (normally $11 ea) The <a href=”Gospel in Life Discussion Guide with DVD: Grace Changes Everything"" “>dvd and book combo is $20. Order a single set and review it for yourself. I think you will agree that this will be one of the best small group studies that you’ve seen anywhere!

If you are a secondchair leader you simply must view this series for your own personal spiritual growth but by all means, find a way to use this for your staff, your small group, your ministry leaders, or any other ministry group you lead.

Disclosure notice: I purchased this book on Amazon.com and did not receive a complimentary copy to review from the publisher or the author.

Get Radical Together

In his previous book, Radical, David Platt presented a challenge to live a radical Christian life (is that redundant?) for a year. I wrote about Radical in a previous review. The five components of this challenge are both comprehensive and achievable.

1. pray for the entire world;

2. read through the entire Word;

3. sacrifice your money for a specific purpose;

4. spend your time in another context;

5. commit your life to a multiplying community.

But Platt understands the vital role of community in individual spiritual transformation. He knows that people are more likely to succeed with this radical challenge if they are in a radical community. Radical Together provides a road map for radical communities to achieve the Radial Challenge together.

‘Together’ is written for either individual or small group study (hence the ‘Together” part!) and it’s written in such a way with enough content that one can pretty much catch the main themes of ‘Radical’ by just reading ‘Together’.  But for a deeper and fuller understanding of Platt’s challenge to live a radical life you should still read ‘Radical.’ The real strength and power of ‘Together’ is the opportunity to study these themes in a group setting – maybe even with your church staff or leaders – over six sessions.

I appreciate that Platt takes the ‘together’ part of ‘Together’ even further than just your immediate small group. Several of the questions for consideration in the group study portion at the end of the book are about our church communities. ‘Together’ goes beyond the miopic me-and-my-little-world syndrome that most of us suffer from and asks us to look around in our faith community to explore how we might be ‘Radical Together.’ It would make a great church-wide group study curriculum, a personal study, or a study with a handful of others. Just make sure that you enter into the radical challenge together and do it sooner rather than later.

The potential impact on your church is huge! Imagine a church full of people who are moving toward those five radical characteristics listed above! Imagine a church that embraces those elements as the normal way Christ-followers live rather than something reserved for those radical Christ-followers. Imagine your own life if these were your personal core values! ‘Together’ can help you get there.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishers as part of their Blogging for Books program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Generous in Portland

I was in Portland last weekend to help my son-in-law do some tiling in a condo unit that he manages for his grandfather. On the way to the condo the truck sputtered – apparently running out of gas (the gas gauge doesn’t work).  We made it to the the light at the top of the ramp but getting through the intersection was looking unlikely! A guy on a bicycle stopped and helped us get the truck the 1/2 block to the next light and that was as far as it was going! Jordan dashed across the street to the gas station to get some gas. The first gallon didn’t help so Jordan went back for another. While I was waiting with the truck a car load of guys asked if we needed help. Another guy in a pickup offered to give us a push. And when Jordan and I decided we needed to stop blocking traffic and push the truck through the 2nd intersection three more guys walking by jumped in to help.

With the truck now parked next to an auto dealership we added a 3rd and a 4th gallon of gas but by that time the battery was dead! Jordan went into the Broadway Toyota showroom and came back with a portable battery jumper and a couple Toyota employees! That didn’t seem to help either, so we pushed the truck around the lot to the service entrance and parked the truck (a Chevy Silverado) in a corner of this huge immaculate service center. They hooked it up to a charger and we took a couple of seats in the large, roomy waiting area and watched some NCAA basketball.

After grabbing lunch at their cafe (a car dealership with a cafe?) we headed back to the service manager to check on the truck. Did I tell you that they never processed any paperwork on his truck? It was determined that the battery was faulty and they had no batteries there that would fit the truck but offered to let us use their shuttle service to go to an auto parts store to get one! Instead, Jordan called AAA. When the AAA truck (a Ford) arrived it pulled into the service center behind the disabled Chevy. Together we checked a few things, tried jumping the battery from his truck, and even added four more gallons of gas (included in the AAA service call).

At one point a Toyota mechanic who used to work for GM came over to check a few items – like the relay and the fuel line pressure. Bingo! No pressure in the fuel line meant the fuel pump was not pumping! It was not the battery or the fuel supply after all. So after a tow from another AAA guy we ended up back at home. And one more thing – the tow truck driver asked Jordan if he was aware of the $3.75/mile charge for towing outside of a 3-mile radius. But when we pulled into the driveway the driver said that since we were in the city limits there was no charge! I believe he was being generous to Jordan.

In a matter of a few hours Jordan and I were the benefactors of nearly 15 different people! Here were numerous people who offered help and assistance without us asking for it and with no expectation of payment or return favor! I was stunned at the kindness so many offered to strangers. No one honked at us or gestured our way. Even though we never got to the condo it was a good day!

Would you have been as generous in offering your help to strangers? Would I?

Does Anybody Miss Peanut Butter Bill?

At the church where I work we get a fair number of people off the street who call or come by asking for some level of financial support. For some it is a request for gas so that they can stay warm overnight in their car. For others it is a request for a bag of groceries. Still others are looking for a stay in a local motel or help with their rent or utilities.  We do what we can to respond to such requests with both compassion and generosity. But it’s never enough to fix their need.

One of the first people I met upon arriving at Our Savior’s was a homeless man named Bill. He knows where the various services were in our community – which churches he can go to once a week to get a hot meal, which restaurants will give him a free cup of coffee, etc. Bill fell into a routine of asking us just for a jar of peanut butter and maybe some crackers once a week. After a while we started to refer to him as “Peanut Butter Bill.” You will see him throughout the area almost always walking. He was not the type to stand still very long and almost never does any panhandling. He attended a couple of our services – even came to a pot-luck once.

Peanut Butter Bill has multiple issues. Besides being homeless he appears to suffer with some sort of mental illness. It’s difficult to carry on a conversation with him. He can answer a few basic questions before he gets confused and just repeats his answers.

Peanut Butter Bill hasn’t been around in a while. We haven’t seen walking around. No one seems to know where he is or if he is okay. My prayer is that he found a more forgiving climate to hang out in or that he got into a program that allows him to stay off the streets. My concern is that he is not okay and that something has happened to Bill. From the little I know him there would be no one to report him missing. No where to go looking for him.

And so I can’t help but wonder if we were ‘entertaining angels?’ Did I do enough to minister to Peanut Butter Bill? Will I ever see him again? Does anybody miss Peanut Butter Bill?