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What Are You Doing?

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My 6-year-old recently asked me what my favorite Bible verse is. As hundreds of possible responses flooded into my mind, I knew her question was looking for the short answer. So off to Philippians I went, and I thought I’d stop at Philippians 1:21: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” As I explained what it meant to live (and die) with our sights on Jesus, I was praying for the right things for her young mind to grasp. Yet the more I shared, the more I had to ask myself “Is my life truly Jesus, and is my death something that I would consider gain?”

In my personal devotional reading, I was in Ephesians 4, and I was at “to equip his people for works of service” (vs. 12).  I had to think, “Am I doing that?” My Lord has given to many the task of equipping and to all the task of serving. This demands a response of each one of us.

These thoughts came as I prepared my Monday evening Bible study for the college students. We are in Acts for the whole year, and I got to speak on the great passage that starts off Acts 6.  Here, the church needed to organize some aspects of service among church members, while allowing the Twelve to focus on serving through the word and prayer. My studies also brought me to Mark 10:45, that used the same word for service in applying it to Jesus: “the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve.” I had the same thought (part 3): what am I doing to serve Christ and to live for him? If I am imitating Christ, I am serving!

So, in case I would forget... at that same time I was preparing for a message for Sunday, in Colossians 3, which starts: “Set your hearts on things above” and “your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” I couldn’t avoid the thought that my heart and life could well be focused too much on the priorities and attractions of this world, rather than on serving Christ for his glory (verse 17). 

In summary, whatever you do, as you serve (even equipping others to do so), do it all for his glory, to the maximum in life, until death comes when God has ordained it. All for his glory!

There you have it: my favorite verse… or maybe some… of many.

Posted by Gary Degraaf with 0 Comments

Seeing Gospel Opportunities in the Unexpected

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What if?

What if you won a million dollars? What would you do with it?

What if your car is stolen? What’s your immediate response? The next day? One week later?

What if a government official walks into your church and asks you what you believe?

Would any of these questions be easy?

For me, the million dollar question is way too easy. Why, I can spend 100 million dollars fairly quickly. Yes, mission work would be the main beneficiary, and the need is great.

The stolen car question was asked in three parts, because the three timelines can have three different responses. Shock? Disappointment? Anger? I think it was The Simpsons that taught me the chain of responses in a crisis situation is known by the acronym DAFBA: denial, anger (D’OH!), fear, bargaining, and acceptance. There’s no right answer. For me, the stolen car question has other implications. Some neighbors of ours in France had their car stolen recently, when someone broke into the house to find the keys, hanging on a hook by the door, and off he went with a free car. That could happen to us, although our car is not the most attractive. The real issue for me is if one doesn’t find our keys sitting out waiting to be taken. What happens when someone doesn’t get a “free” car?

Finally, the government official question. Or it may be a news team. Or in the office, or a co-worker. Or on the street... anyone that you don’t expect, as if the question startles you: what do you believe?  Or “who are you?”

Unexpected circumstances can yield gospel opportunities.

1 Peter 3:15 says “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” Who would ever ask me? Maybe we should expect that more. Maybe we should interpret someone’s comment as his way of asking that question: “I don’t know what to believe anymore...” Is that not a wide-open door, begging you to walk through and share your faith?

Maybe the reason no one asks us about the hope we have is because no one knows we have this hope?

Lord, help us to keep our ears open, and especially our hearts open, for neighbors, co-workers, kids knocking at our doors during Halloween, suffering people around us, and help us to love. Help us to be ready to give a response for the hope you give us. Protect all those in areas where crime rears its ugly head, so that your children will rise up and be witnesses for your glory. Amen.

 


Gary, along with his wife and children, minister to the people of Lille, France.

Unity in Community

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Gary, along with his wife and children, minister to the people of Lille, France.

Jesus prayed in John 17 for us—his Church, his Bride—that we may be one. When I look at our small church plant in France, I marvel at how God put us together. After all, it is God who builds the Church, and we rely on him for unity.

Some church bodies in the U.S. are formed with people of the same type of socio-economic status, some with the majority falling in the same age group, and sometimes with those who dress practically the same way. Only after looking deeper into the matter would we find that the location of a meeting place or the doctrinal alignment with one’s beliefs were considered in someone choosing a church. In our new church, most of the above considerations, as important as some are, seem to be discarded.

How would you react and how could you pursue unity in a church where…

  • 22% of the married women in your church have gotten divorced this year alone?
  • Only 2 of 7 families come regularly with all their children (under age 18)?
  • 10% of your couples live together outside of marriage?
  • 5 distinct cultures are present and many affect the way our services are run?

As far as divorce, it happens when reconciliation is not possible. The response of the church in terms of community is to see that each person is loved, and each person is accompanied in spiritual growth. We praise God that even with our small number we are able to accompany each divorced person so that they are one with us.

As far as children who don’t come to church with their parents, there would seem to be a clear lack of unity. However, when I or others on the leadership team conduct family visits, we actually see the “missing” children in their homes. They know us, and we can have at least a limited relationship with them. Yes, we would love to have them participate in our community and in our classes and programs for their age. Surprisingly enough, our small church does have something regular for all age groups, and many of our leaders are involved in a teen ministry and in a children’s group. I also have college student ministry ties for the young adults. Family ministry is critical for us, and we really do need God’s help for there to be unity in the community.

As far as unmarried couples living together, we work with them towards marriage or living apart, despite heavy economic burdens that may result (yes, also from marriage; no time to explain that here). Purity inside and outside of the boundaries of marriage will help us towards unity, in accordance with God’s will.

As far as our distinct active cultures present in our community, we praise God for diversity, which actually brings us to unity. We hear prayers in other known languages, and we rejoice that God hears them. We have Bibles present in different languages, and we praise God for Bibles in English, French, Arabic, Kabyle, and Spanish, so that God can speak directly to the hearts of each one.

Unity is not possible in our church context if we try to base it on similar clothing styles or economic background, or even age. It is only based on God unifying us in Him, in the blood of Christ, and in love, that which Jesus said is the distinguishing mark of his disciple (John 13:35), of unified Christians everywhere.