Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Problem with the Church

I know that by titling a blog post “The Problem with the Church” I run the risk of causing many to assume that this is another holier-than-thou-church-bashing. It is not. In fact, I need to begin by acknowledging that I have been a big part of the church’s problem for much of my 30 years that I have known Jesus. Before moving to Guatemala I spent 20 years as a youth pastor/church planter/pastor and I was very much a part of the problem. So, at the heart of all of this is a public confession and a pleading for others not to make the same mistake.

revival 1I grew up going to two small Baptist churched in North Carolina. I came to know Jesus at a large Wesleyan Church in the same state. I served as a youth pastor in both the Brethren in Christ and Missionary Church denominations and then planted a Missionary Church in Troy, OH. Over the span of those 40 years and four denominations all seven churches shared something in common…the desire for revival.

We talked about it, preached about it, prayed for it and predicted it, but it never came. I heard pastors speak with great conviction about the Great Awakenings that swept across America and saw the fire in their eyes as they shared that we were due for another one. But it never came. Sure, there were times when whatever church I was a part of would grow and we would see some people saved, but nothing happened that ever really impacted our neighborhood, much less our city, state or nation. And usually within a year or two the gains we would see would be lost due to division or simple boredom after the excitement wore off. These times would become short-lived spikes on the church’s growth graph.

Of course, you could always point to those churches where good things seemed to be happening. The congregations would grow, buildings would be built, cool VBS programs would be hosted, and people would flock to them. Occassionally I was a part of one of those congregations. But were these really revival? No, because their impact usually ended with those that went into their buildings. The community that surrounded them continued as normal.

I have sat in and even chaired church board meetings where we have talked about and prayed for revival. I have sat in denominational and district conferences where it has been preached and restructured for. But it has not come. And the question is, why not?

Maybe the answer to that question lies in our vision of what revival would look like. For just a moment, think about it. What would revival be like if it fell on your church? Usually the description is something like this:

Oh, it would be wonderful! People would come to know Jesus and be passionate for obedience. Our church would be packed to overflowing and our offering plates would be full. Our services would be exciting, the preaching amazing and the community would be flocking to us.

Okay, fair enough. Let that be the description of revival. Then what? What would your church do with all of those eager and willing people and those overflowing offering plates? (I didn’t ask what they SHOULD do, I asked what they WOULD do. Big difference.) And the answer is the same thing it was doing before, only more of it. If it was building buildings before it would build bigger buildings. If it had lots of programs for the church families it would have more and bigger programs. If it focused on hiring professional ministers before it would hire more ministers.

Loose-change-in-a-hand-007After all, Jesus makes it clear in the parable of the talents that what we do with the little we have determines how much He will entrust to us:

"His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'” – Matthew 25:23

He knows that what we do with the little is what we will do with a lot. As a result, He blesses us or withholds blessings accordingly.

You see, the recipe for revival has been there all along. It is written in black and white repeatedly in Scripture. If we want the power and blessing of God our our lives, our families and our churches we need to surrender ourselves to God and start doing the things that are important to Him. Period. If we do, He will bless us with everything we need and more to do it bigger and better. God does not bless us so that we can be blessed, He blesses us so that we can bless the world in His name.

Don’t believe me? Read Isaiah 58. It is the formula for revival in black and white. It explains what true fasting really is:

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-- when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”

                              Isaiah 58:6-7

And what will the results be? Easy answer because the same chapter lays it out for us:

“Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.”

                                Isaiah 58:8-9a

This is just a snapshot of Isaiah 58 and I encourage you to read the entire chapter. It makes it very clear that if we want the blessings of God we had better start doing the things that matter to Him.

Another vivid picture of this concept is Jesus’ words in Matthew 25 when he gives us a view of the final judgment:

DSCF5764"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.' "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you? "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

                                        Matthew 25:34-40

In every one of the churches in which I grew up and served the Word of God was preached. We were taught that the Bible was true and that we should live it out as believers. If it says it, we believe it, and that settles it! Yet I can seldom remember being challenged to feed the poor, clothe the naked or give water to the thirsty. And, if I recall correctly, little or no money was budgeted for those tasks. But, more importantly, the same was true for the church that I pastored. In that situation, there was no one to blame but me. As a result, I am deeply ashamed of my leadership and grateful for God’s mercy and forgiveness. I am also grateful to have another chance.

empty-churchOn a regular basis I encounter pastors who are quick to blame the lack of attendance at church services and activities on the people who fail to come. But many times the problem lies with the church and its leadership. Are they offering anything to which it is worth coming or are they simply offering the spoken Word of God without modeling the lived-out Word of God? Most people are hungry, and contrary to the modern church-growth movement they are not hungry for more entertainment. They can get that through the television and internet. They are hungry for purpose and meaning. They are hungry to make their lives count. They are hungry to make a difference. So why should they give their time and attendance to a church that is not? Good question.

The roadmap to revival is clearly laid out. Love the Lord and love others. But loving both requires more than just words. It requires action. As we begin to love in ways that matter, God will provide more than enough power and resources through His Spirit. Until then…we will be the church in word alone.

Three years ago I had a conversation with the President of a denomination that was promoting a new emphasis for renewing their churches. They had a neat, concise 5-point plan and they were encouraging their districts to get on board. Yet in that 5-point plan there was not one word mentioned about caring for the least of these. They were seeking God’s blessing and renewal without effectively using the little they already had. And, unfortunately, all of the restructuring and planning will be in vain.

There is a world dying around us, both physically and spiritually. In our congregations are the resources to change that. And if we would just begin small God would give us what we need to do it in enormous ways. But if we don’t we should not sit around asking God for revival and blessing. It will not come. He will not bless us if we are simply going to hoard that blessing.

But imagine what would happen if the church really cared, really loved, really met needs and really saved lives. Do you think our Father would withhold what we need to do more of it? Of course not. We would have trouble keeping up with His Spirit’s power and provision…and we would know revival first-hand.

Take it from someone who knows…a recovering part of the problem.


Monday, July 23, 2012

Mexico, Repairs and Provision

One of the complaints I receive regularly is that I don’t share enough about our family and personal news. (Actually, to call it complaining isn’t fair. It is usually just a request that I talk about my family, the best part of our ministry.) So I thought I would take a few moments to share with you our trip to Mexico last week.

SAM_0157We are currently still living in Guatemala under a tourist visa. We are waiting for our ministry’s association paperwork to be completed which will mean that Ministerios de Esperanza (Ministries of Hope) will be a recognized ministry by the Guatemalan government. Once that happens we will be able to apply for a religious workers visa. Until that happens, we have to leave the country every 6 months to renew our visa. We do that by driving 5 1/2 hours to Tapachula, Mexico for a three night mini-vacation. We have really grown to enjoy those trips and look forward to them.

SAM_0026We don’t do much while we are there. We pack most of our meals and cook them on a hot plate in the hotel room. We swim in the pool. We play family games. And we shop at Wal-Mart. (Wal-Marts in Mexico are much closer to US stores and have a much better selection and better prices than in Guatemala. So, we stock-up on items that aren’t available here.

I am pleased to report that the trip was easy and uneventful. Border crossings have become easier and I have even learned how to negotiate with the money exchange guys who try to rip you off. I believe the entire process only took us about 40 minutes. One of our favorite moments in each of our border crossings is when I pay 60 pesos for a guy to walk around our van spraying insecticide. They do this to keep insects for hitching a ride and illegally immigrating. I am sure that this is very effective since there is no way that they could actually walk or fly across the border. Wait…

This trip was especially nice because it included Brittney, who returned from the States last Sunday after two months away. We really missed her and it was God’s timing that we could take this trip right after her return. It was a wonderful vacation for us all and we had a smooth trip home on Friday.

Recently I asked you to pray that God would provide for the financial needs of our ministry. I want to let you know that He has already begun to answer those prayers. Two days after my last blog post I received word of a family that has made the decision to support our work for $200 a month. That same day I heard that a new church voted to support us as their missionaries. And, again that same day, I found out that the work team that is with us this week from Yellow Springs Missionary Church had raised above and beyond what their trip cost and had sent two separate checks to Hope for Home totaling $2950.00.

SAM_0233On Friday of last week I received word that another family was sending a check for $1000.00. Then the Yellow Spring’s team arrived on Saturday loaded down with donations. Last night they unpacked and presented us with gifts for our family (lots of items that we cannot purchase here or are very expensive). They also brought lots of physical and occupational therapy items for our group home and medicine. Then, when the unpacking was done, they gave us $663.00 in cash that was left over. Their church went above and beyond in blessing us and our ministry.

And here is the neat part of that story. Yesterday afternoon my 4-Runner was returned to me after nearly 3 weeks in the shop. It had required:

  1. A new clutch and the replacement of several parts within the clutch assembly.
  2. A complete service (oil, lube, air/fuel/oil filters, cleaning of contacts, etc.)
  3. New brake shoes and rebuilding of calipers
  4. A/C compressor repairs
  5. A rebuild of the starter
  6. A new CV joint

Anybody want to guess what the bill for this work totaled? Yep, almost exactly $660.00. God is faithful, isn’t he?

SAM_0235Today the team is working with us to weigh and sort food for our distribution. In a few moments we will be loading up to deliver this much needed food to families. This is one of my favorite days of the months as we spend so much time visiting and praying with families. I have a lot of work to catch-up on after three weeks without my primary vehicle, so I better get to it.

Blessings from San Antonio Aguas Calientes!

Daryl, Wanda and the Crew

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Group Home, Grounded Vehicle and Great Family Fun

Life here is rolling along quickly. At the top of our priorities list are the preparations for our group home. Edy Tum, our social worker, is pleased with our progress and the additions we are making. In about seven weeks we will have a huge inspection in which three different agencies of the Guatemalan government will be coming through our home to examine the structural and sanitary conditions of the house and to approve our preparations for the children we will be receiving.


Among those preparations has been the building of wheelchair ramps. A team from Living Waters Church in Michigan did the bulk of the building and I have been working on the finishing touches. I still have one more ramp to build and need to cover the outside ramp with rubber and they will all be done.


When the inspection occurs, we have to have all the bed we need. As a result, we purchased two sets of bunk beds this week that can be un-stacked. This allows for additional space in the bedrooms if the children are capable of sleeping in an upper bunk, but is flexible in case the beds all need to be low. We also purchased two Pack-and-Plays to serve as cribs/bassinets. Once again, flexibility is the key as we don’t know the ages and disabilities of the children we will receive.

Generator_1Money is tight these days, so a couple of purchases have been put on hold. One such optional purchase is a generator. We encounter regular power outages in our town and this makes me nervous for a couple of reasons. First, we will be accepting medically fragile children, some whom may require medical equipment that relies on power. A generator would assure that such equipment could function during long-term power outages. Second, we purchase our food in bulk and a large amount of meat is stored in two separate freezers. A long-term power outage would result in a big financial blow with the loss of those perishables. At the same time, we understand that God is our safety net, not a generator. So, would you simply pray that if He wants us to have one it will be provided. If not, then pray that the power stays on!

IMG00423-20110506-1624Currently I am grounded from our village work as my 4-Runner is once again in the shop. There were a lot of things that needed attention but I had been putting off until I could find a break to have them addressed. Finally, with my starter failing to start at times, I realized I could wait no longer. I was concerned with finding myself stranded in a remote spot. So my mechanic, Jouquim, picked it up and tore into it. As I suspected, the starter needed to be replaced along with the clutch and several clutch components. In addition, my front brake calipers were bad and needed to be rebuilt and the brake pads replaced. I also had a bad UV joint on the right side. Finally, the A/C compressor needed to be replaced. (I know this last item is probably considered a perk instead of a necessity, but after making eight or nine trips to regions with 90 to 100 degree temps and high humidity I was feeling mighty wiped at the end of those days with no A/C in the 4-Runner.)

100_5360Some have suggested that I seem to be spending a lot of money on vehicle repairs and that I might want to consider trashing the 4-Runner and finding something newer. In reality this is a very good vehicle. Unless you have traveled with me it would be hard to understand the pounding this 4x4 takes on a regular basis, especially the suspension, brakes and clutch. I abuse it regularly in order to get to where we need to go. (This picture was taken from my 4-Runner by a team member just before we followed this pick-up truck across. And this is not the roughest road we travel and that is the shallowest stream we cross. During rainy season we drive through 2 1/2 foot deep streams.) So, please pray for this vehicle (affectionately known as “The Batmobile” by some of the local Guatemalan children). Also pray for the continued provision to keep it maintained.

DSCF9363On Tuesday we purchased the food for our monthly distribution and I continue to be amazed at how God has moved. This month we purchased almost 600 pounds of food that will be weighed, sorted and delivered on the 23rd of this month. God is faithful and has provided the necessary sponsors to make this happen. The difference this is making in the lives of families is a wonderful thing to see.

As I write this we have two more children who are waiting for us to come and evaluate their needs. It is hard to find the time to do everything that needs to be done.

Meanwhile, life is more than ministry and work. We are also having lots of fun as a family. Brittney has been away in the States for the last two months and is returning Sunday evening. (And this dad is more than ready to have her back!) In order to prepare her for her return, we sent her a fun video that we put together. It is a documentary showing all the “changes” in our family since she left. You can see it here:

Since You’ve Been Gone with Blooper reel

Also we will be taking our visa renewal trip to Tapachula, Mexico next week. This required trip out of the country has become a forced vacation that we really enjoy and look forward to. It is nice to have three days away to just be a family.

Well, that’s all for now. Blessings from San Antonio Aguas Calientes!

Daryl, Wanda and the Crew