Real Faith

Hudson Taylor famously said, “God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supply.”

I know a man who embodies this. Maybe a Hudson Taylor sized biography that has to be written. Nonetheless, I want to share one of the miraculous stories that illustrates the supply God provides to his people doing his work.

This man I am talking about is the pig farmer turned pastor/missionary, Ted Olbrich. Yep, this guy who was called to ministry while studying to be a pig farmer. A man who became a pig farmer at one point. A man who first stepped into the mission field at the age of 52 in 1998. The one who God put to work with his skills in farming and people skills…and his passion for the fullness of God to change a nation.

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In 16-years of serving as missionary to Cambodia with Foursquare, he has seen a move of God sweep the nation. The Foursquare church is the fastest growing church in the world in any nation, any church. In 16 years, Ted has seen 6,000 churches/home meetings planted, 106 church/orphan homes established, 18,000 orphans raised, 1 million+ salvations, and the miracles mentioned in the book of Acts over and over again. Yes, that includes the dead being raised, demons cast out, the sick healed and much, much more.

I can speak with some authority that this man is a man of faith. I don’t mean the “faith” teachers that spoil the term. I don’t mean the name it and claim it type of faith. I mean the Hudson Taylor type of faith. The man has always had incredible vision for what God can do. He could see it even as my pastor in a small, rural Chicago suburb. He saw things that no one else did and worked in partnership with God to see them come to fruition. Now, what happened on the scale of a local church in middle America, he is saying on a grand, nationwide scale in this little Southeast Asian country which at the time he arrived was the poorest nation in the world.

He was my pastor, the pastor that sent me to Bible College. I owe my spiritual growth and incredible faith to him in large part. He is a true hero of mine. You know the kinds of heroes that you actually know. They are close enough to you that you know them for the good and bad—not those heroes that are so distant and elevated on pedestals, the people who allow you in and enter your life with mutual benefit.

One reason he is my hero is the incredible strong, raw and sincere faith he has. He lives it. He walks it, and it often stretches him thinner than humanly possible.

In a ministry that cares for thousands of orphans at a time and no constant income stream to count on, the dependency on God to take care of the orphan is faith. Oh, dependency is one of the missiological things we try to avoid. Yeah, avoid like the plague. But how does one avoid this when babies are placed on your doorstep? When this is such an issue in God’s heart, how do we turn away the most dependent the world can offer?

Sometimes dependency is simply unavoidable. And to be honest the ministry in Cambodia is breaking all the rules, or maybe making a whole bunch of new ones, depending on your perspective.

It takes a lot to feed and clothe kids. But they do a fantastic job of working to avoid dependency as they have started 100’s of micro enterprises such as fish ponds, rice fields, pig farms, tractor repair shops, and on the list goes. They are developing these kids into an army of Cambodia’s most fervent followers of Christ. They are meeting urgent needs, and producing a mature person in the process.

But this takes money.

All of this takes money to fund ministry that rescues kids from poverty and much worse. Money to mobilize a church that is growing exponentially. Money that supplies such amazing ministry. This is the exception to the rule of dependency. But where does the money come from.

It comes from the one Hudson Taylor said would supply it.

The best story that illustrates how God is in this came a few years back in this endeavor. Money was thin, and hungry mouths were plentiful. Ted was beside himself on how to keep this ball rolling before the bottom fell out of this dynamic and huge mission that was transforming Cambodia, just read about what kind of nation this was 16 years ago compared to what it is today.

Ted was at the end of his rope, the end of his faith.

The end nearly came when the phone rang.

He picked it up not knowing who was on the other end. Even after talking a moment, he did not know. The man explained that he had recently been on a trip to Cambodia to observe the homes and the ministry happening in the country. This man then went on to explain who he was. Keep in mind, as a missionary who sees many teams come through, it is hard to keep everyone straight. People come and go, and there is no way to keep them all straight, especially when the urgent needs arrest your attention as the bills pile up.

This man who came with a team from Hong Kong explained that he was the Vice President for the Asia branch of the largest bank in the world at that time. He would have called a day earlier but wanted to confirm the funds in the deposit first.

That is right, funds. That magical word. So one starts hoping for a significant number as they continue to listen to the story.

The VP went on to explain what happened the previous day, the day after he returned from Cambodia.

One of his wealthiest clients came for her monthly meeting a few days later than normal. She came later since she had to wait for him to return from his business out of town. So she started asking what it was that the VP was up to.

He explained how he joined a trip observing a ministry that cares for orphans in Cambodia. Her interest was piqued. She thought this was a wonderful place for her philanthropy. You see, this wealthy client was a Singaporean with significant real estate holdings.  She wanted to help the children.

The VP objected saying, you see I am a Christian, and we were visiting a Christian ministry. You are a Buddhist. I am not sure you really want to do this. She insisted. The VP went on to describe Ted. He is a crazy man, doing incredible things like taking Buddhist kids and converting them into Christians. She said, stop it. I want to help.

The VP went on saying this man is wild. He wants to save the whole nation of Cambodia. He wants to destroy your religion.

She started to get a bit more insistent, you know the kind that makes the VP of a massive bank start to get antsy. This guy started to worry that he might lose his client, so he changed his posturing. He made sure that she was sure of what she wanted before working out the details.

Now, he is on the phone telling this story to Ted. He says this wealthy woman from Singapore who has no relation to the gospel, no relation to Ted, and has never seen the ministry wants to help.

Help is good, Ted thinks as he waits to hear how.

The VP said how. She is immediately sending one million dollars.

You could have blown Ted over with a feather. Even a man of faith gets blown away from time to time.

There was one condition. The VP relayed to Ted that she never wanted to have her name given or to have to come to Cambodia to meet Ted.

As Ted tells the story, this stuff doesn’t happen, it is unbelievable. But it did happen. He is the recipient of God doing it. This kind of story is meant to build faith, and sometimes it seems to only overwhelm those of us with normal faith. We say, this will never happen to us.

I am not telling this story to set up some kind of formula for God’s blessings. I am telling this story to encourage the hearts of those that follow a missionary God. I want to say what Hudson Taylor said.

“God’s Work Done in God’s way will never lack God’s supply.”

What are you believing God for?

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The Season Of Giveaways

Good-Christmas-Gifts-For-Your-BoyfriendAs the holidays stretch around the corner, we often get the charity season revved up.  And this can cut many ways.

Prepare to be generous as charity workers come looking for support. Also: Look for ways that we can be Jesus to people, offering a drink, a meal, an extra coat, and more. Let’s be generous for the right reasons.

Often churches aim to leverage the holidays as an opportunity to draw people in if they give something out. It might be toys for Christmas, meals for Thanksgiving, clothes, shoes, backpacks at the beginning of school and many more ways to give things away in an attempt to win people to the faith. We end up mixing two aims into one—the aim to love and the aim to witness become seen as the goal to grow our church.

I was recently talking to the pastor of an inner-city church that our church, The Connection Church partners with on a regular basis to see both churches extend their reach and the mission of the Church with a capital C. We were talking about the plan to help them with a toy drive and giveaway over Christmas. The fact we are working toward a Christmas event that includes giving away toys should demonstrate that our perspective includes a value for giving and showing love.

Pastor Perades, a long-time veteran of serving in the inner-city of South Central LA, shared his straight talk with me. Let me pause to say, I appreciate straight talk, especially when it comes to partnering. We cannot have true partnership if one side is holding back. This straight talk helped articulate the problem with mixing goals.

Pastor wanted me to be aware that we can give toys away, and they would be glad to receive them for a Christmas event. He said we can fulfill the mandate to love our neighbor in this way. As he talks to his people, we must have an attitude of generosity, to give as we have been given so much. In this, however, he wanted to caution me, and I believe more than only me as we look toward being the church, filled with compassion, mercy, generosity and love at Christmas. Why are we doing what we do? There are plenty of good, Biblical, and laudable reasons to participate in charitable activities at Christmas. Let’s just stay within these reasons and not hope that what we do will also turn into new salvations.

His caution came to limit our expectations. We can be a people that loves our neighbor or those less-advantaged. We can aim to bless others, but let’s not see this as an evangelistic opportunity. He went on and on to say he hasn’t seen these giveaways as evangelistically fruitful. He just hasn’t seen people come to Jesus because of a freebee. Maybe that happens, but more as a consequence of the church being the church, and the Holy Spirit doing his work.

Why?

In today’s society, He explained, people are sophisticated enough to find the giveaways and show up for the free stuff. People know how to get what they want and not stick around for more than that. People know how to see through the façade that the giveaway is the carrot at the end of the stick. They know how to go through the motions to come away with what they want. Pastor shared his conviction that he has not seen these acts of charity to double as an evangelistic tool. The savvy person sees easily through ulterior motives. It is sad to put it in these terms, as a person who wants everyone to know the love of God and finds it hard to see that as a negative. But we can be clear with love and don’t have to be sneaky about evangelism.

Yes, we should love, we should be generous to those less fortunate, we should give. If I could say it in my own words. Let us be loving and giving people with no strings attached.

Maybe this can be a good reminder as the season of giving comes. Let’s give not to feel good about who we are. Let’s give without an expectation that our giving will translate into new converts or new members into our church. Let’s give and give sacrificially simply to be an extension of God’s love to this broken and desperate world.

Have you seen this kind of giving? Where have you seen it done well?

Getting “Saved” Pt.2

In my last post, I began to talk about this thing called salvation and how we expect the good news of God’s saving grace to affect people. You can catch it here.

Here goes the next thoughts with a story to illustrate my question.

Why has the church or large portions of the Christian community in the Western world gone to a place of almost enticing people into salvation? It is as though we are saying, pretty, pretty please just accept this guy Jesus into your life. C’mon, it will make me happy, and maybe you too. Yeah, yeah, smile, ‘cause Jesus loves you.

He certainly does, and his love compels us to a new life. His love drove him to great lengths that he could take our old life, the sin, the darkness, the bitter misery, the blasted state of our being and exchanges that sorryness for joy, beauty, hope, newness, and far more than a few words could even say.  His love wants to reach into our soul and make it alive, make it sing like never before of the glorious things he will fill our life with.

Some talk about faith being a journey, both a journey to faith and a journey to growing in the Lord. I don’t see this as mutually exclusive with the distinct conversion experience.

I am all in on the journey analogy and finding milestones or markers along the way that draw us closer to God, but I also know there have been far too many examples of an instantaneous conversion moment like Zacchaes had. A moment that says, he got “saved”.

Why don’t we expect this anymore as we witness of Jesus’ goodness in our life. Why do we feel a need to make it almost wimpy. I remember a student in one of my Bible classes in Thailand asking if we bait and switch people when we take them from a decision to the story of the Cost of Discipleship. Do we tell them how wonderful this decision will be, so they will say yes, and then give them all the gory details later? Why not tell them how wonderful life with Jesus is and expect the depth of our conviction, joy and authenticity to pull them into a place of conversion. Why not expect the grace of God to be at work as it calls people to a place of repentance. Why not believe that people can be touched by God in a powerful way. Why not from our vantage point, decidedly hope for people to get “saved” from the old, dead self into a new, alive self.  I don’t know. Maybe our faith in what God can do for a person is too low, and we feel the need to help him out a little in this business of salvation.

I am not saying, we need to beat salvation over people’s heads. I am not saying we should move back to the Bible-thumping, fundamentalist days. What I am saying, we need to take a posture of confident expectation of what God can do in a person.

At the same time, we should still be keenly sensitive to where people are coming from, and work hard to insure the only offense people receive from us is the offense of the cross. It is not easy, mind you. I get that there is a delicate balance of how we communicate with care and believe with fervor for God to work in people’s lives.

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I recently read a short story that reinstilled this conviction in my heart. This story comes from the mid-point of the last century in a small, Dutch town. A young man who believed God had the missionary call on his life decided to make his workplace his mission. First, he needed a job, so this uneducated, son of a black-smith and veteran of an unpopular war to defend his nation’s interests in Indonesia started working at a chocolate factory. The environment of his workplace was as foul of a place to work with crude language, abusive co-workers (girls who treated him hostilely), and simply poor conditions. But this was his mission field. He was sure that God had him here for a reason.

This missionary in training, Andrew, connected with another Christian, a teenage girl working behind a booth in another part of the factory. Together, they began witnessing, starting prayer meetings and taking people to evangelistic meetings.

The workplace did not change immediately though. One girl, Amy, blind and working the conveyor belt with Braille, routinely made mistakes. Her  situation was such an invitation to mocking to the point where the ringleader of these nasty girls who worked the factory floor, Gretchen, laid into Amy for dropping her materials. She picked on her ruthlessly and routinely.

At this point, Andrew, a shy Christian trying not to receive the brunt of the cut downs piped up felt the voice of God prompting him to speak. But he was not sure he should say what he heard, yet he did.

He spoke up with boldness saying, “Shut up!”, and I mean shut up for good. Stop putting everyone down. Stop being so cruel to everyone.  And not only that. I want you to go with us to our meeting Saturday. The bus leaves at 9 am; be there. I want you to  be there with us. And she listened. She showed up for the bus to the meeting.

She went along with the Christians, less than excited, but she was there. After sitting through the meeting nonplussed and partially checked out, they returned to the factory where the bus let them off. Now, everyone would go their separate directions. However, Andrew wanted an opportunity to follow up with Gretchen in the moment.

A thought came to him. He invited Gretchen to go home with him on his bicycle. He could easily take her on his way. She hesitated but acquiesced after some gentle urging. On their ride, he thought he might give her the final push into salvation, but again he heard that voice prompt to do something, something that again seemed like nonsense. However, he began to know this voice was the Lord’s and he should listen and follow what He says.

He felt urged to say nothing, nothing about the gospel of Jesus, but only to talk about the scenery. He did, and they enjoyed small talk on the way home.

The next morning at the factory, Andrew’s Christian friend asked him what he said to Gretchen on the way home. He said, nothing… why, nothing at all?

Then he looked across the warehouse floor to see Gretchen beaming with joy, and even helping Amy pick something up off the floor. He went to investigate and ask Gretchen what gives.

Gretchen explained how the previous day went in her mind and her apprehension to get a ride home from him. She feared that Andrew would push the Bible on her. She had her walls up, her barriers, but he simply showed care and consideration for her. She began to think about the whole day and the joy that exuded from the people at the meeting, the testimonies, the story of Jesus. She reflected and thought what if God is real. What if she was wrong. She prayed to God and thought if he is real, he could come and give her that joy too.

She explained how God came and flooded her heart and changed her bitterness for goodness, and complaining for mercy and kindness. God came into her life and completely transformed her from one night to the next day. Not to say the sanctification process was complete, but the conversion was sudden and distinct.

I read this story in God’s Smuggler, the story of Brother Andrew who smuggled millions of Bibles behind the communist’s Iron curtain. His story was incredible, but this story of a girl in the factory caught my attention. She got “saved”. And I thought, why don’t we expect the good news to do this in people today? What changed in our approach, our posture before God, our desire to see people changed?

There is not an easy answer, but it makes me think. Does it make you think?

Getting “Saved”

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I know we don’t use this word much in evangelistic conversations anymore, and I understand why it slipped out of our vernacular.

I don’t want to talk about this word in any of the ways it might be confusing to a non-Christian or a pre-Christian. I want to talk about this word in the very Christianese way we once knew it.

This word carried such strong connotation within the church when we talked about conversion, and I mean true conversion. I can’t fully convey the weight of meaning in “saved” through writing. One needs to think of a stereotypical evangelist who would give the term the necessary emphasis and oomph when using it to communicate a complete salvation and serious amount of sanctification in seemingly a moment of time.

I would hear the word and know that someone had been utterly transformed. The reality of conversion had taken place. Now a sinner had been turned into a saint, a person stepped out of darkness into the marvelous light, ashes were turned into beauty…a true and deep change had taken place. .

Well, it is not always that drastic that a person seemingly at odds with God and goodness steps out of a life of brokenness and despair into a life filled with joy and marked by gentleness, peace and mercy. The salvation process looks as different as each person is uniquely distinct.

Sometimes this process takes time, a long time; other times this conversion process happens more immediately, suddenly and even supernaturally. Well, to be honest the supernatural always plays a role in the change from darkness to light—a bigger role than we often expect or contend for.

Talking about people getting “saved” like we did in Pentecostal passion seems to be more nostalgic in my mind rather than normative today.

As I reflect on this distinction of conversion, I have found that we don’t talk about things like a sinner to a saint or calling people from darkness to light very often anymore. We almost soft peddle this thing called the gospel as though we might talk someone into accepting the good news into their already good life to make it more good. As we aim not to offend people we also try to cover up the offense of the cross too. We keep everyone happy as we keep hoping they will continue to go deeper with God…at some point down the line.

What? Is this the story we read in scripture? Is this what we saw happen again and again as missional movements swept through history and context. I think of the Awakening, the Great Awakenings that spawned from John Wesley’s preaching that called people to an encounter with a Holy God. This awakening that marked the revival came as he wrote in his journal again and again of a visible change in countenance when people came to faith.  One might say they were saved from death to life.

I love how Tim Keller talks about Jesus’ mission. He says, ‘Jesus did not come to make bad people good but dead people alive’.

But somehow, we have gotten to a place of almost being ashamed of the gospel. We allow people to secretly accept Jesus into his life. We let them wave a hand in the air or maybe even simply glance at the speaker to acknowledge their desire to be in the club, socially speaking. How does that line up with Jesus’exhortation to acknowledge him among men and he will acknowledge us before his father? Are we hoping that later, a little further down the road, these new believers will muster up the courage to openly profess their faith? I don’t know why things have denigrated to such a sad state of hope by the proclaimers of so called good news. But I would like to see a return to a belief that the gospel holds sway over people, powerful sway that changes them from the inside out. And that this gospel could suddenly and dynamically alter a person, many persons to the point this Good News shifts the culture around us.

This post has quickly bubbled into quite a big thought on this topic. The story I planned to share will have to wait until part 2.

Do you find this issue resonating with you? Why did we make this shift?