We are so blessed

October 31st, 2009

I hope every one of us fully appreciates our churches tomorrow, no matter how imperfect they may be.  How wonderful that we can meet together without the government’s approval.  Some day it might not be so.

Hope Haven pays off mortgage!

October 31st, 2009

Hope Haven Gospel Mission in Lewiston, ME, is having a mortgage burning ceremony at its open house on November 24.  Thanks to the generous contributions of all those who gave toward the mortgage retirement campaign this summer, we have been able to pay the mortgage in full!  This relief is just in time, as the high-demand winter season is quickly coming upon us.

Meals served this year, to-date: 13,147

People sheltered this year, to-date: 313

Turned away for lack of space: 31 Men, 30 Women, 34 Children

Do we live like we believe it?

October 29th, 2009

Charlie Peace was a criminal in the 1800’s in England.  He was a thief and a murderer, but eventually the law caught up with him, and he was condemned to death.

On his last morning in Armley Jail, Leeds, England, he was taken on the death-walk from the prison cell to the gallows. Before him went the prison chaplain, routinely and unemotionally reading some Bible verses.

The criminal touched the preacher and asked what he was reading. “The Consolations of Religion,” was the reply.

Charlie Peace was shocked at the way he so professionally read about hell. Could a man be so unmoved under the very shadow of the scaffold as to lead a fellow-human there and yet, dry-eyed, read of a pit that has no bottom into which this fellow must fall? Could this preacher believe the words that there is an eternal fire that never consumes its victims, and yet slide over the phrase with a tremor? Is a man human at all who can say with no tears, “You will be eternally dying and yet never know the relief that death brings”?

All this was too much for Charlie Peace. So he aid to the preacher:

“Sir,if I believed what you and the church of God say that you believe, even if England were covered with broken glass from coast to coast, I would walk over it, if need be, on hands and knees and think it worthwhile living, just to save one soul from an eternal hell like that!”

It’s time for us to attempt extraordinary things for the sake of reaching the lost, to give them opportunity to turn from death to life.  Tens of thousands of Mainers are passing from this life to the next with little chance of hearing the Gospel, because sound, Bible-believing churches have retreated from rural areas.  Please pray for our work as we try to do our little part in reversing that trend.

Street Preacher confronted by Police

October 29th, 2009

A street preacher in England was told by police that it is a crime to say that homosexuality is a sin.  It’s interesting that Obama has just signed into law a bill which ads homosexuality to protected classes for “hate crimes” here in the USA — the Democrats slipped it into the Defense spending bill this week! [yes, you read that right … they put it into the Defense spending bill.  They used the lives of our sons and daughters in the military as leverage to pass their pet legislation]

Why to the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his anointed, saying, “Let us break their bans asunder, and cast away their cords from us. He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision. Then shall He speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure.”

Psalm 2: 1-5

No matter how much they legislate their immorality, no matter how much they try to revise history, no matter how much money they get, no matter how much they pour out their ideology in schools and on television, no matter how hard they try to convince us or to beat us into submission, no matter how many people they fine or send to jail for disagreeing with them, the fact is that the Bible still says that homosexuality is a sin. Sin. It always has, and it always will. It is outside of their power to change that.

“Supposing that Gain is Godliness”

October 22nd, 2009

Many of our fundamental churches have been influenced by the worldly philosophy that “gain is godliness.”

We can all point to certain money-crazed charismatics who teach on television and radio that financial increase is a sign of God’s blessing and that God wants all of His people to be rich. The Bible calls these people “men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness” (I Timothy 6:5) and adds “from such withdraw thyself.”

Yet this very philosophy has influenced our independent Baptist churches. Preachers and evangelists are pointing to financial gain as a sign of God’s blessing on them, and some are even laboring for this type of gain. We give great influence and prominence to the big colleges and churches, who have the big money.

If money, buildings, and crowds were an indicator of God’s blessing, then we should all convert to Roman Catholicism right now.

We need to look with spiritual eyes, not worldly eyes. Remember, we are not laboring for an earthly reward. If God has called us to labor on a certain field or in a certain way, money and comfort-of-living should never enter into our mind as a “confirmation” of His blessing. We ought to simply pursue the work He has assigned to us, whether or not the money and recognition are there.

The next time someone remarks, “The offerings in Pastor XXXX’s church are up over $700 a week – God is really blessing there!” open your Bible to I Timothy chapter 6 and let the Bible purge them of that charismatic philosophy before they do any more harm to God’s work and to God’s people.

If the Bible is not enough to convince them (it often is not enough for those who are influenced by worldly charismatic thinking), give them a history lesson.

William Carey is recognized as “the father of foreign missions.” As he labored in England, sometimes working two jobs in addition to his pastorate, he lived in abject poverty.

When he tried to convince pastors of the need to evangelize heathen nations, he was met with indifference. When speaking of this need at a pastor’s fellowship, one prominent pastor said, “Young man, sit down and be silent. If God wants to save the heathen, he will do it without your help or mine.”

Carey finally convinced enough churches that world evangelism was possible and was the duty of God’s people, and he left for India with promises of support. In India, the money he had brought with him did not last long, and he and his family were soon experiencing dire need. Support from home was slow in coming, and much less than needed. For years he lived and labored in poverty, living at times in a Bengali’s garden house and later on a homestead in the jungle, often not having food for meals. His wife turned on him. The influential East India Company opposed his work.

He saw little fruit in his ministry for the first seven years. The one person who made a profession to Christ was not faithful. Discouragement seemed to beset him on every side. Most of our churches today would have dropped him from support during those first years.

After seven years, the situation began to improve, and gradually support from home increased and he got a well-paying job as a professor at a college in Calcutta. Even during this time, however, Carey lived in poverty by choice, keeping only 10% of his college salary and putting the other 90% directly into the mission. He and his fellow missionaries lived in a common house eating meager meals and wearing clothing that back in England would have been considered beneath any professional. The only exception to clothing was that Carey, after consultation with the other missionaries, purchased a suit of better clothes to wear when he went to teach at the college in Calcutta.

The time of relative prosperity didn’t last. Soon, enemies began circulating nasty rumors among supporting churches back in England, and support plummeted. The mission board, which he had helped create, cut off funds to the mission, believing the rumors rather than the missionaries themselves. Carey found himself, again, immersed in financial difficulty and turmoil.

No, financial gain is not a sign of godliness or of God’s blessing. The approbation of fellow preachers is not a sign of godliness or God’s blessing. Professional success is not a sign of godliness or God’s blessing.

The bottom line is that when God gives us a job to do, we are to labor at the task regardless of circumstances. If we have to look to earthly things as confirmation of God’s calling, then we never believed the calling to begin with. When you know what you are to do for God, pursue it with all your might and with all your resources, regardless of money, possessions, glory, and other people’s approval.

Our reward is not down here. This world has nothing to offer us. Our hope lies above.

Hudson Taylor lived in poverty in China, sometimes not knowing where he would be sleeping the next night. Because of his state, the guardian of the woman he wanted to marry did not immediately give her approval. He was considered a ne’er-do-well because he was not associated with a mission board and had no steady income.

Taylor buried his eight-year-old “daddy’s girl” and two babies in China. His house was looted and burned down. His wife died. Yet, he kept his eyes above – not looking to the circumstances of this world as confirmation of his calling, and not considering for a moment that money should be considered a stamp of approval or sign of God’s blessing on his ministry.

Brothers and sisters, if we are truly living for God, there is a great possibility that we will never see financial prosperity or wealth.

George Műller lived as a pauper in Bristol, sometimes giving his last bread and butter to a house guest, and often not knowing where the next meal for he and the orphans would come from. Fellow Christians told him that he was a fool for living the life of faith and reliance upon God for which he is so respected today – they said he would only bring shame to God by his manner of life.

Even when money came more easily during the latter part of his life, he kept the bare minimum for his own expenses and put everything else into the ministry. He did not consider that the money was a reward for all the hard work and sacrifice he had put in over the years (he had labored for God, not for money). Nobody would have faulted him for taking a little for himself, for buying better clothes instead of mending the older ones, for buying a nice house. But, he didn’t. In fact, he never owned a house. After his wife died, he even relinquished the rental house he had been living in and moved into one of the rooms in one of the orphanages he had built.

Műller said, “A servant of God has but one Master. It ill becomes the servant to seek to be rich, and great, and honored in that world where his Lord was poor, and mean, and despised.”

When so many great men and women of God throughout history have endured severe poverty, hardship, and deprivation, how dare we look to money, cars, nice suits, and nice homes as a sign of God’s blessing – or as something to even be desired in our Christian ministry!

I was naïve about this. I thought, “I’m doing God’s work, so God will send all the money, and the more I work for God, the better finances will be, because, after all, ‘God provides.’”

What I discovered through experience was something very different. Yes, God provides. But sometimes that provision is in the form of affliction which tests your determination and faith. Sometimes He presses your life through financial hardship to the point that you don’t think you can bare it. Sometimes He teaches you to live on less than you ever thought possible. Sometimes He teaches you that the things you thought were “necessities” are really only “wants.” Sometimes He compels you to give up material things that you thought were very important.

Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept they word … It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statues. (Psalm 119:67,71)

Often God provides for us by bringing us low and shaking us up.

My family is now living on less than 2/5 of what I was making before surrendering to preach. We’re still living on bare plywood floors. We just installed second-hand carpet in the children’s rooms upstairs. We have to keep the house at 50-55 degrees for most of the winter. There’s a five gallon bucket under the kitchen sink because the elbow on one of the drains leaks so much. We hang clothes from the ceiling in the kitchen/dining room because it is expensive to run the dryer. We get our clothes as hand-me-downs or from Goodwill. Every car I’ve bought since becoming a pastor has been at least 8 years old. The driveway has so many ruts and rocks in it that we have to drive it at 5 mph. Winters are cold and laborious and expensive.

God has used me more this year than in all the eight previous years, yet income has dropped to its lowest, and the work I did locally to supply steady income for our household was lost when the company I worked for dismissed all of its independent contractors (including me) this Spring in order to save staff jobs. Our meager savings disappeared within three months.

But not one of the statements above is a complaint! To the contrary. God has been so good and gracious to allow us to continue ministering here.

Being able to serve God is a privilege. Without that purpose, I could have twice the money but still be aimless, desolate, and hopeless. It is through God’s grace that I continue to minister on His behalf, and I don’t look to the things of this world as confirmation or signs of His blessing. In fact, financial prosperity has more pitfalls than blessings for God’s people.

Our hope and purpose as God’s servants need to lie beyond this world, or we will be the most miserable people on the face of this earth.

Let’s don’t put conditions upon our service to God.

We should not say, “God, I’ll serve You if you keep the money flowing.”

Or, “I’ll serve You if I can keep my standard of living.”

“I’ll serve You if I can have my nice clothes.”

“I’ll serve You if I can keep my hobbies.”

“I’ll serve You if I don’t lose my house.”

“I’ll serve You if I have good health.”

“I’ll serve You if I can live with electricity and running water.”

“I’ll serve You if I can have people’s respect.”

Don’t make your faithfulness contingent upon temporal things. Don’t be guilty of “supposing that gain is godliness.” Receive what God gives you and be thankful for it. Be grateful for His provision, whatever it might be.

No, it’s not easy, but it gets easier as we grow toward Him. You’ll find yourself in prayer more. You’ll find yourself more humble, and more sensitive to other people’s needs. You’ll find yourself looking more to God and the next world and less to the things of this world. You’ll find God using you in surprising, unexpected ways.

I ask you to pray for me, my family, and the ministry God has given us. Pray that we are faithful to the end, and that He is able to use us in the way He wants to. I also want to pray for you, particularly if you are enduring hardship for the sake of your ministry on God’s behalf. You have a lot of brothers and sisters that are struggling just as you are, laboring alongside you. Keep your eyes on Him.

A Momentous Day

October 21st, 2009

Sunday was a big day — the Church voted to create a church-planting organization!  This is a great step forward in our vision to see churches planted in rural New England towns.  We’ve had $135 given specifically toward this purpose, so we only need about $165 more … where the Lord leads, the Lord provides.  I hope to have an update on this very soon.

A week of challenges!

October 16th, 2009

Sometimes God sends more than the usual allotment of  challenges.  This has been one of those times.  It comes at a time when sponsorships on our web sites are at the lowest point in many years and support for our work has sharply declined due to the financial stress that the national economic downturn has inflicted upon businesses, ministries, and individuals.  Nobody has as much as they used to have, so folks are simply unable to support ministries as they used to.  In order to continue the work (the need to reach souls is greater than ever) we’ve had to make drastic moves, to the point that our family is now living on about $1,000/month.  But, by God’s grace, everything continues to work out — just not as conveniently as we would like, many times.  God is such a good God to allow us to continue to serve Him.

Amid this over-arching challenge, our hot water heater died.  It took four trips into the hardware store this week, but we finally got another (used) heater installed and it’s working wonderfully.  What a blessing to have hot water, and to be able to learn “on the job” like this to do that kind of plumbing and wiring without hiring a contractor.  I’m sure it’s God’s way of training us for some things that are coming in the future.  In the process, we also discovered a potentially dangerous wiring issue and were able to fix it with the help of an electrician-friend who explained to us how to do it over the telephone.  God’s so good.

But, there have been blessings amidst the trials.  On one of the trips to the hardware store, I finally found the right adapter to get our used gas dryer running.  We’ve had it for months, but did not have the right adapter until this week.  The timing could not be better, since we won’t be able to hang our clothes out to dry much longer with winter coming.  We’re already having to run the wood stove every day.  Nights are getting down into the low 20’s and days get up to the high 40s and sometimes low 50s.  It’s too early for this kind of weather!

Also, a man from the church let us come over and dig all of his Jerusalem Artichokes.  We got around two bushels, which means that we can now replant all of the artichokes we dig up from our own crop, so we’ll have a bigger crop next year.  He also gave us all of the horseradish we could dig, and several pounds of apples from his apple trees.  He is single, so he couldn’t use it all himself.  What a blessing!

We also received $135 this month toward the church-planting effort and $75 in missionary support.  Praise God!  The $135 is being applied to the start-up cost for Rural Church Planters of New England, an organization that the church will be voting this weekend about whether to start.  Amidst all of the challenges, the work is still moving forward!

Please remember us in prayer, especially to thank God for His mercies and grace toward us.  Thank you.

Coping With Defeat and Disappointment

September 22nd, 2009

Difficulties and tough times are inevitable for the Christian, and with these tests, trials, and challenges come defeats and disappointment. Young and mature Christians alike can be disappointed, frustrated, and feel defeated at times. Some will go on to success in their Christian life, but others will allow a temporary defeat to side-line them forever.

Christians should never believe the myth that as they mature they will be less susceptible to defeat and failure. To an extent, this idea has validity because as a Christian matures they begin sowing more good seeds and fewer bad seeds, which results in a better harvest in light of God’s principle of sowing and reaping. A more mature Christian will also better handle God’s chastening and, presumably, do fewer things that warrant chastening.

However, as a Christian becomes stronger, so do the trials and tests that God sends their way. When a basic lesson in faith has been successfully completed, He moves the Christian on to an intermediate lesson. He tailors the challenge of each trial to the Christian’s strength and spiritual maturity.

As a Christian matures, becomes more effective for God, and becomes a more serious threat to the enemy, Satan also hurls more vicious attacks and directs more vigorous assaults against him or her. The intensity of Job’s difficulties were commensurate with his level of spiritual maturity, faith, and effectiveness for God.

Thus we find that mature Christians fail. Pastors fall. Christian marriages break up. King David pursues Bathsheeba, and King Solomon has his foreign, idolatrous women. The challenges a Christian faces grow as the Christian grows, and to disregard that fact opens the door to serious defeat.

Defeat, frustration, failure, and even despair will find their way into every Christian’s life sooner or later. When that time comes, the Christian’s future depends upon how they respond to the defeat.

For the answer as to how a Christian should respond to defeat and disappointment, we need look no further than the Bible. The Bible is all-sufficient for the Christian’s spiritual guidance and sustenance. It is a gracious and complete guide for Christians experiencing defeat and disappointment.

Let us consider the life of Joseph. Joseph’s early life is a story of one disappointment after another. The young Joseph was meeting his brothers in the field to give them a message from their father and to see how they were doing, and his jealous brethren rose up against him, tearing his coat from him and throwing him into a pit. They smeared the coat with the blood of a goat so that they could convince their father that some wild animal had killed him. If any man or woman were entitled to despair, Joseph could have been as he lay in the pit awaiting his brothers’ next move.

His brothers sold him as a slave to a caravan headed to Egypt. Once in Egypt, he was purchased by a wealthy man named Potiphar. Potiphar soon recognized Joseph’s strength of character and made him head of his household. “Finally,” maybe Joseph thought, “something good is happening to me.” But his position did not last long. Potiphar’s wife lusted after him, and when he would not yield to her desires out of respect to God and to his master, Potiphar, the woman accused him before Potiphar of attempting to rape her. Of course, Potiphar believed his wife, and cast Joseph into prison. What a disappointment! What a defeat! What an opportunity for despair!

The jailors soon appreciated Joseph’s qualities and made him essentially a steward of the jail, putting him in charge of all of the other prisoners. Things were looking up, but regardless of his position or rank, he was still in jail. There was hope one day when the Pharaoh’s butler and baker were thrown in jail. Joseph, with God’s inspiration, accurately interpreted their dreams, and the butler promised to remember him before Pharaoh when he was released. Finally, it looked like his big break was coming. But, soon his hopes were dashed again when the butler forgot all about him for years, and Joseph remained locked away in the Egyptian prison, far from his home, far from his father and mother, far from any worldly comforts.

Joseph seemed to experience one defeat and disappointment after another. Yet, through all of these great tragedies, he emerged a stronger person and, one day, was put in charge of all of Egypt. How did this happen? How does a person, like Joseph, manage to get past all of these defeats and disappointments that would send most “normal” people into a downward spiral of despair?

Joseph served faithfully.

It was as if Joseph had already read the words penned over a millennium later by the Apostle Paul: “But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” (I Corinthians 15:57-58)

In every situation Joseph found himself, he faithfully served as he believed God would have him do. In the face of the direst of disappointment, he remained “stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord,” and God richly rewarded that faithfulness. When he was sold as a slave to Potiphar, he remained “stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding . . .” and Potiphar quickly recognized that quality and promoted him. When he was faced with Potiphar’s wife enticing him to sin, he remained “stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding . . . .” When he was imprisoned, he continued stedfastly, and again the quality of his character was recognized and the jailors promoted him.

Joseph responded to every disappointment and defeat with a stedfast commitment to simply serving and doing what was right. He could have felt sorry for himself. He could have given up hope of ever finding freedom and happiness. He could have shaken his fist at God, blaming Him for all of the bad things in his life. Instead, he made the conscious decision to move forward in God rather than looking backward away from God. He decided with each seemingly hopeless defeat to make the best of a bad situation and be “stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.”

Every Christian should respond as Joseph did to difficult times. But, let’s be frank; this is one of those things that is “easier said than done.” It is rather easy to look at Joseph’s life and see how he responded to trials, but it is a hard thing for us respond the same way when a difficulty comes our way. In fact, outside of Christ it would be impossible for us. Praise God, “for with God all things are possible.” (Mark 10:27) We are assured, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13)

There are some practical things that we can do in order to be “stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” when we are faced with difficulties. First and foremost, do not let your spiritual life diminish when difficulties begin. Often, challenges in our life will tend to push aside some of the things that are most vital to our successful navigation of the challenges.

When the doctor says, “cancer,” and those regular trips to the hospital begin, don’t let that stop your daily Bible reading. In fact, if at all possible, read more!

When you lose your job and you have no way to pay your bills, when you are afraid to answer the phone for fear of debt collectors, when you hate collecting the mail because you know what is in it, do not let these things stop you from regularly seeking God in secret prayer. Make more time for prayer!

When disease, or bad health, or schooling, or challenges at work eat away at your time, don’t quit teaching that Sunday School class or volunteering at the Gospel mission. Try with all your might to put your whole heart into your ministry for God.

When the crippling auto accident happens, or the deaths of loved ones, strive to see how you can use your experience or condition to help other people. Do all you can to keep your eyes off yourself and on other people’s needs. Remember that your life is not about you, but about Jesus and, as a minister on His behalf, about other people.

We can name and examine the lives of many saints, past and present, who have emerged victoriously from seemingly crushing difficulties: Ruth, David, the Apostle Paul, Hudson Taylor, Adonirum Judson, Elizabeth Elliot, and many others. In every case, these Christians strove, with God’s help, to be “stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” when the trials came. When they saw failure or disappointment or fierce trials, they didn’t take their foot off the “gas pedal.” They strove to move on in the strength of the Lord.

Christians who have been through the fierce trials understand more than most of their brothers and sisters the fact that everything we do for Christ must be done in His strength alone. If we labor out of our own strength, we will never see the successes and rewards that we could if we were to rely upon Him. If we are working in our own strength, every challenge that comes our way could end our work. We may “get by” trying to do His work in our strength during the good times, but when the difficulties come it is impossible to do anything relying upon ourselves. Many times, God brings us into a position of weakness in order to teach us this fact. Paul tells us God’s response to him when he prayed that an infirmity be removed from him, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (II Corinthians 12:9) God makes himself strong in our lives by making us weak. There is no weaker moment than when we have just experienced a defeat, or failure, or grand disappointment, and we are emotionally weak, physically weak, and maybe even spiritually weak.

When the difficulties come, let us resolve to be “stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord,” relying on His strength. We can do this by remembering these things when difficulties come:

1. The only way to get past them and to see other victories in our life is to be “stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.”

2. This means that we need to strive to maintain our spiritual walk and ministry on Christ’s behalf even when faced with despair and failure. Pray more, read the Bible more, don’t neglect Church, and don’t neglect or abandon positions and opportunities that allow us to serve God.

3. Without God, this is impossible, but, with God, all things are possible.

4. All of our work , if it will survive the difficulties, must be done in God’s strength and not our own. Attempting to do things in our own strength dooms us to failure.