The first quiz of the season took place on Saturday, Jan. 13 at Northridge Friends Church. Twelve teams from seven churches quizzed over Matthew 15-17. The competition was fierce with many close matches. In the end, Northridge Blue took first, Haviland came in 2nd, Friends Community placed 3rd, and Bethel Blue was 4th.
(First Place: Northridge Blue)
(2nd Place: Haviland)
(3rd Place: Friends Community)
(4th Place: Bethel Blue)
The other teams placed as follows:
5th: Argonia Red, Northridge Red
6th: Chandler, Bethel Red
7th: Friendswood Red, Friendswood Blue
8th: Argonia White, Argonia Blue
The next quiz will be in Chandler, OK on Feb. 10th
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Let me be clear. I am not, have not, and never will be a fan of the Alabama Crimson Tide. As a lifelong member of Buckeye nation, cheering for Alabama would be a blatant breach of sports etiquette, second only to marrying a Michigan fan.
I am, however, fully capable of recognizing and appreciating gridiron glory wherever it may be found, even in the most unexpected places. And so I have to admit, somewhat reluctantly, that what I witnessed during Alabama’s victory over Georgia in this year’s NCAA College Football Championship was a thing of pure beauty.
Just in case you missed it, Alabama was down 13-0 at halftime so they decided to shake things up by replacing their starting quarterback, the guy who got them to the big dance, with a highly touted but relatively unproven freshman from Hawaii by the name of Tua Tagovailoa, who then proceeded to lead the Crimson Tide to a 20-point second half, setting up an overtime showdown with the Bulldogs. Georgia kicked a field goal on the first possession in overtime, then gave the ball back to Alabama for one last shot at the title. After Tau was sacked for a huge loss on the first play from scrimmage, I think it is safe to say that nearly everyone watching the game had all but given up hope on the prospects of another national championship for Alabama at that point. Everyone, that is, except Tau. Against all odds, the pigskin poet from Polynesia calmly took the snap, dropped back into the pocket and threw a perfect, 41-yard spiral to fellow freshman, DeVonta Smith for the game-winning touchdown. Cue the band and let the bedlam begin.
It was, without question, a truly marvelous moment in sports history. But what made the moment much bigger, infinitely more meaningful and, dare I say, divinely providential, was what took place after the game was over. When asked about his performance during the postgame interview, Tau took a deep breath, searching for just the right words. Having gathered himself, he peacefully and publicly declared to millions of viewers from all around the world:
“First and foremost, I would just like to thank my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. With him, all things are possible. All glory goes to God. I can’t describe what he has done for me and my family. I just thank God I was put in the place and the position that I’m in now.”
What a marvelous moment indeed. And what a marvelous testimony to the difference that Jesus can make in the hearts and lives of those who trust in him.
Just to be clear, I share this story not to try and make the case that God will give us national championships just because we believe in him. I’m confident that Georgia has just as many devout believers as Alabama. We all must cope with our fair share of devastating losses in life, regardless of how talented, hard working or spiritually mature we may be. But I also know from firsthand experience that we can become so accustomed to sorrow and loss that we may have trouble recognizing and/or receiving good news even when it slaps us in the face. Worst of all, our dreary demeanor prevents us from giving full glory to God for all of the good and beautiful gifts that accompany us on our journey with Jesus, including every little victory that we experience along the way.
With this in mind, I am compelled to begin this new year by praising God for just a few of the many marvelous moments he has allowed us to share together as an extended family of Friends during the past year, including the following: the official launch of a new church among our Bhutanese and Nepali friends in St. Paul (MN), the hundreds of young men and women whose lives were transformed through our student ministries (including over 400 students and adults who participated in summer camp), the practical assistance provided by Family Promise on behalf of more than 500 homeless people in Greater Wichita alone, the celebration of the Barclay College centennial, the revitalized work of our Texas Area Friends Disaster Service in response to the victims of Hurricane Harvey, the investment of over 200 local church leaders in seven Area Leadership Retreats, the life giving rest and renewal provided by our Pastor’s Sabbath Retreat, the six men and women who were publicly recorded as ministers of the gospel during our annual Ministry Conference, the addition of two new staff members to our yearly meeting leadership team, and the countless examples of newfound faith, renewed hope and healing, recovery from addiction, and fresh calling to vocational ministry that are impossible to measure this side of heaven.
Of course, this is just a small sample of the many marvelous moments that we have had the privilege of witnessing in our midst throughout EFC-MAYM in recent days. To borrow from the Chronicles of Narnia, “Aslan is on the move.” May we continue to follow him faithfully and fearlessly in the days ahead, “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).
As we ponder the true meaning of our Lord’s incarnation during this Advent season, I wanted to pass along the following quote that I recently received from a fellow colleague:
It is easy to gloss over the introduction to Matthew’s Gospel. I should know. I’ve done it many times. Chapter one consists of what appears to be a utilitarian and benign genealogy, nevertheless important because it demonstrates that the Jesus described in this volume is indeed the promised Messiah King, heir to the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants. But a closer look triggers a jolt to one’s religious and cultural sensibilities. The first two paragraphs mention that four women represent vital links in the Messianic chain: a victim of rape (Tamar); a virtuous “outsider” to the community of promise (Ruth); an opportunistic woman of ill-repute, to put it delicately (Rahab); and a co-conspirator in adultery and murder (Bathsheba). The ways of God are truly a marvel! His purposes cannot be thwarted. He does not remove himself from our messes, He redeems them. [Ralph Enlow, president of the Association for Biblical Higher Education, emphasis mine]
Obviously, the four women who are included in the genealogy of Jesus were far from perfect, but let’s not forget that there are at least forty men mentioned in this same list who were all equally fallen and flawed human beings as well. It would be good to remember, for example, that the Messiah’s lineage also included Abraham (a chronic liar), David (an adulterous murderer), Solomon (a serial polygamist) and Manasseh (a blatant idolater), just to name a few. One could easily argue that the genealogy of Jesus is one long, messianic mess!
But once again, as Ralph Enlow would reminds us, we serve a God who “does not remove Himself from our messes, He redeems them.”
As absurd as this may sound, how much more so when we consider the manner in which the Messiah redeems our messes. Instead of distancing Himself from our filth, or carefully stepping around it, He actually embraces it: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood” (Jn 1:14, MSG).
To be even more specific … the pure, holy, sinless Son of God, the sole source of Divine Wisdom behind the entire universe, was conceived as a frail and fragile embryo, delivered through a bloody birth canal, born in a barn, wrapped in rags, placed in a stone cold feeding trough, welcomed by stinky shepherds, worshipped by mysterious magicians, hunted by tyrannical despots, raised by refugees, rejected by relatives, befriended by bums, betrayed by his brothers, forsaken by his friends, arrested and convicted by the religious and civil authorities, tortured and mocked by the military, viciously crucified with broad support and public acclimation from the crowds. “Crucify him,” they shouted, and “let his blood be on us and on our children!” (Mt 27:23, 25).
And “by his stripes we are healed” (Is 53:5).
Clearly, truth is much stranger – and infinitely more redemptive – than fiction.
So I wonder what messy situations you may be facing this Christmas? The list of potential problems is endless – health concerns, financial stress, marriage and family tensions, problems at work, loss of loved ones – but make no mistake, the solution is singular. As George Fox would remind us, “There is one, even Christ Jesus, who can speak to thy condition.”
And so we wait for Jesus the Messiah to come and help us clean up the many messes in our own lives, in our families, in our neighborhoods and in our world. That is what Advent (“the coming”) is all about, after all. He has already come, He is come even now, and He will come again.
Newberg Friends Church, the historic “mother church” of Northwest Yearly Meeting is searching for a lead pastor with significant public teaching and preaching gifts, a readiness to support evangelical Friends biblical testimonies and a clear commitment to Christian evangelism and world missions. The goal is to find God’s leading for ministry to begin in July 2018 or as soon after as possible.
Resumés and letters of interest may be directed to Newberg Friends Church, Ron Stansell, clerk of Elders at P. O. Box 487, Newberg, OR 97132 or preferably by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Josh Bunce will conclude our fascinating journey through the New Testament in his third class on January 8, 2018. Having entered a new year and having so recently celebrated the birth of Christ, we will come with new life in a spirit of celebration. We will also come with anticipation of Josh’s informed teaching. In his final class with us, Josh will center his teaching on the General Letters and Revelation,
With a seminary education and college teaching experience, Josh is giving us excellent instruction, while providing us a model for our teaching. And his teaching is through the lens of Friends faith and practice. Josh is leading us in a deeper experience of the written Scriptures, while encouraging us to listen to the Inward Voice of Christ for clear understanding and interpretation of the events and messages in the Bible. He is helping us to appreciate and understand more profoundly the eternal truths of God revealed in the Bible. I am excited for this last class with Josh, who is my personal friend and colleague, and who continually keeps me informed of new, scholarly Bible resources.
I hope you will make this class a priority and join us at one of these locations:
These are the locations where you can listen to and interact with Josh and other Friends in the Institute: St Paul, MN Friends Church (at the home of Kumar Tamang, with Friends from Nepal and Bhutan), Canadian Yearly Meeting (Montreal Monthly Meeting at the home of David Millar, and the homes of Paul Etienne Mungombe and Jonathan Esongo, Friends from Congo), (Quebec City Meeting with Musato L. Dems and Alphee Ndahond, Friends from Congo), All Nations (formerly Sudanese Community) Friends Church in Omaha, Palmer, Alaska (at the home of David Miller), Noatak, Alaska (Robert Sheldon, Superintendent), Louisville, KY Friends Church and Stone Mountain Friends Church in Atlanta (with Friends from Rwanda and Burundi), Samson Retnaraj (EFM missionary in Nepal), Mncedisi Nkomo (pastor in Zambia), James Nduwayo (pastor in Rwanda), Faniyi Paul in Nigeria, Amuri Edouard with African Friends in Chicago, Anthony Moodie at the Dover Friends Church in Jamaica, Mary Carter-Haynes at Amity Hall Friends Meeting in Jamaica, Kickapoo Friends Center, Marshalltown Friends Church, Indianapolis, with Steve Turner, Lighthouse Fellowship Church (at the home of Jerry and Mary Louthan), Friends Community Church (Angleton), Neighborhood Friends Church (at the home of Tom and Bonnie Bousman), Friends Ministry Center (Wichita), Bangor Liberty Friends Church, North Newton (at the home of Merl and Eunice Kinser), Fowler Friends Church, New Hope Friends Church, and Barclay College (Jackson Hall).
If you have a conflict Monday, I invite you to view the video recording onYouTube Here.
This will be the third class in our study of the New Testament and our sixth class in the Bible. I am sure that you, like me, are growing immensely. Josh will begin at 7:00 p.m. central time onJanuary 8, 2018. This is the second Monday in January, since New Year’s Day is the first Monday.
Hoping you can join me in hearing Josh in his concluding class,
What would you expect to be reality and reaction of a man and woman, perhaps with other children in the home, when the announcement is made of a new arrival coming soon to their family? The gift of new life brings enthusiasm and excitement all around. Perhaps it was planned for a long time, and perhaps not, but reality is a newborn is coming. Most leaders across our family here in middle America are inclined to lend a hand as needed. This is the situation presently as a new baby church is developing here in our Mid-America Friends family.
Through communications from a parent in Africa, a refugee family has recently arrived in Abilene, in west Texas, named Ekwenya and Veronica Mitaci, along with their six children. This communication was sent to all by Pastor Manaseh Kisopa, who is the Pastor of the Evangelical Friends Church in Congo at the Uvira Monthly Meeting, as well as the treasurer of the Great Lakes Theological Training School, in Africa. Veronica Mitachi is the daughter of Pastor Manaseh Kisopa.
In late 2016, this communication was circulated through various leaders of Evangelical Friends International. This letter was a plea from a father to Friends leaders in America to connect and to assist their family to adjust to a new culture, and to settle with a connection to the Friends family of God. Randy and Charlene Littlefield traveled to Abilene TX and through a connection in a Not-For-Profit Administrative office, were able to speak with an officer who knew of an Ali Mitachi, about whom we were told worked in a local hotel. As we entered the hotel, we were connected with the maintenance/repair manager, Ali Mitachi. We introduced ourselves, and found that he was the brother-in-law of the Ekwenya Mitachi family, and was also a refugee now living in Abilene for nearly 10 years. Ali Mitachi spoke excellent English and explained that his relatives had only recently arrived in the city. We explained the communication from Pastor Manaseh Kisopa, and his desire for his family to connect with the Friends Church. Ali understood completely, and with an exceptional Kingdom perspective, communicated that he felt that Ekwenya would be a great Friends Church planter. He then explained that Ekwenya had already obtained a job at a local restaurant. Since the family only spoke Swahili, he made a phone call for us and found that the entire family was at home at their apartment. So we were invited to come visit.
What a delightful experience we had as Ali introduced this family and translated from English and Swahili for a couple of hours. During that time we met the six children, from age seven to seventeen, including two girls and four boys, one of whom was named after his grandfather Manaseh. The mother, Veronica, was already busy in her kitchen preparing a native delicacy of fried bread, which they called “Versace”. She then served this delicacy to her children and guests around the kitchen table. I explained that we have the privilege to work with the leaders and churches of Mid America Friends to plant new churches across our region. They knew the process well from their experience with the Friends Church in the Congo, and communicated that they had been praying that God might use them to help plant a new Friends Church in this community. God has a way of working ahead of us through His Holy Spirit, and that work becomes very evident when we have the chance to pray together. As a result, through that single visit, we came away feeling sure of Jesus’ confirmation.
We are very early in the development process with this pastor, however are very excited, as is the father-in-law Pastor in the Congo, about this opportunity. Additionally, through consultation with EFM leadership, please pray with us that others across Mid-America churches might have connections of others in Abilene, TX, or the Swahili language, and/or, that you might just be the one to experience the burden to assist, even from afar, to pray and then possibly, to let me know who may be interested in serving with this effort. We are now forming our new Partner Church Advisory Team, with the leaders from Texas Friends Churches and any other church across Mid-America. We typically would meet with the local leadership at least monthly over some internet-based online tool, and use our standard Home Missions process we call our “Journey Toward Maturity”, to guide this exciting cross-cultural new church planting project.
We continue to trust in Jesus’ promise that “He will build His Church, and that the gates of hell should not prevail against it!” Simply contact me at email@example.com or 913.683.3831 or Janet at the Ministry Center office, if you would like to explore with us what our God is doing in Abilene TX. God bless!
– Randy Littlefield, Director of Multiplication Ministries
Registration Deadline has been extended to January 19, 2018!
An event for church leaders that is designed to encourage, equip and empower the whole church to take the whole gospel to the whole world in Jesus’ name.
Here is a brief summary of the core passion and purpose behind this regional leadership gathering:
“Pastoral work originates, as does all Christian ministry, in the biblical sources. But for at least two generations the perspectives generated by recent behavioral sciences have dominated the literature directed to pastors. The rationale seems to be that since we are in a century of rapid change, that since so much of what we encounter is unprecedented, and that since there have been quantum leaps in knowledge and technology, anything that worked in an earlier age certainly won’t work now. But the work which has to do with the human’s relation to God and God’s will for the human does not come from knowing more about the times but from knowing humanity – and God. It has to do with continuities, not novelties; with what is essential in the human condition, not with what is accidental. Pastoral work gathers expertise not by acquiring new knowledge but by assimilating old wisdom, not by reading the latest books but by digesting the oldest ones … otherwise we float on fads; or we develop pastoral strategies in response to the fake little cycles of death and rebirth which are monitored by the seasonal rise and fall of the hemline … hastily put together out of whatever is at hand from the graduate schools, the bestseller lists, and the latest opinion poll listings of what people want. Meanwhile scripture is at hand for those who will use it, foundation stones upon which a better pastoral work can be constructed.” (Eugene Peterson, Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work)
9:00 – Warm Up
9:30 – Session 1: Standing at the Crossroads with our Lord (presented by David Williams, General Superintendent, EFC-MAYM)
10:30 – Coffee Break
10:45 – Session 2: Standing at the Crossroads with our Families (presented by Tony Wheeler, Founding Director, Family Ministry Institute)
12:00 – Lunch Break
1:15 – Session 3: Standing at the Crossroads with our Neighbors (presented by Carol Williams, Wife of General Superintendent, EFC-MAYM)
2:15 – Coffee Break
2:30 – Session 4: Standing at the Crossroads with our World (presented by Matt Macy, Associate Director, Evangelical Friends Mission)
3:30 – Wrap Up
Central Kansas: Northridge Friends Church/Manny Garcia/David Crisp
Central Oklahoma: Chandler Friends Church/Keith Reeser/Brad Wood
Northeast: Emporia First Friends Church/Jared Warner
North Central: Glen Elder Friends Church/Wanda Warner/Diana Roe
It’s been more than twenty years now, but it is one Christmas I will never forget.
We were in the midst of yet another busy Advent season at West Park Friends Church in Cleveland, Ohio, where I was serving as lead pastor. At the center of the festivities was a very special manger scene that had been made by a member of the church. It was a beautiful yet very fragile replica of the nativity, complete with meticulously hand-crafted shepherds, wise men, Mary, Joseph and, of course, baby Jesus.
One day as I was in the sanctuary preparing for an upcoming service, I happened to glance over at the manger scene. It was set up next to the altar, right where it belonged, but something just didn’t look right. Much to my surprise, I discovered that there was one very important piece of the nativity missing – baby Jesus!
I looked as hard as I could but there was no sign of baby Jesus anywhere. I asked Carol, who was serving as church secretary at the time, if she knew where baby Jesus went but she was equally perplexed. And suddenly a chill went up my spine as I was confronted with the ugly truth: somebody stole baby Jesus from the church manger scene. It was a full-blown, five-alarm Christmas scandal!
Just as I was about to hit the panic button, our then three year-old daughter, Hannah, walked into the room with a very sheepish look on her face, holding both hands behind her back. Her posture begged the question, so I took the bait: “I can’t find baby Jesus, Hannah. Do you know where he went?”
With an earnestness that only a three year-old could muster, Hannah looked up at me with her big, brown eyes and confessed, “I took baby Jesus, daddy. He looked cold. I love him, and I just wanted to hold him close to my heart. Can I keep baby Jesus, daddy?”
Looking back, this incident continues to remind me that Hannah grasped the real meaning of Christmas much better than the rest of us that day, including her dad. She knew that Jesus didn’t come to be put on display. He came to be held. God sent his Son to be embraced, not enshrined. Jesus is not a fragile god of porcelain, but a living, breathing God of flesh and blood. We want to keep Jesus at a safe distance in the manger, but he wants to be our most intimate friend, kept close in our hearts.
Through his incarnation, scandalous as it may seem, Jesus gives sinners permission to hug a holy God. Through his birth, life, death and resurrection, Jesus makes God readily accessible to three year-olds … and anyone else who is willing to receive him with the simple faith and wide-eyed wonder of a little child.
“He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:11-12)
Throughout Scripture, the most basic words of our faith—hope, promise, Heaven, eternity—connect us to our future. Scripture is filled with verses that urge us to look forward. We anticipate what lies ahead and look to identify our role in God’s mission to redeem the world—essentially Jesus’ big dream of a movement spelled out for us in Acts 1:8. If we are to see a change in the scorecard of success in the U.S. church, we must first see a paradigm shift in our thinking, a shift that overflows and infects others. Big dreams prompt change. Big Dreams change our questions. Big Dreams change our prayers. Big Dreams change the people around us. Big Dreams change our churches. Big Dreams change us. The future of the movement of Friends lies outstretched before us! Your Home Missions team is currently envisioning how we can better come alongside the local churches of Mid America.
I find it difficult to address the subject of multiplication without at least touching on some very fundamental concepts of math. When it comes to church growth and church multiplication, words like “growth,” “subtraction,” “plateau,” “addition,” “reproduction,” and “multiplication” are unavoidable. As leaders, we tend to adopt our own definitions based on our unique context for church. Our temptation might be to look at our success and incorrectly conclude that we’re being obedient to Jesus’ commands and multiplying, or to look at our church size and mistakenly conclude that we can’t be a reproducing or multiplying church if we’re small.
Let’s start with a very simple and basic review of some mathematical concepts—just enough basics to equip you for the journey to becoming a multiplier. Rather than making up our own definitions, I’m embracing the terms that have been handed down to us through mathematics. These are not “secular or business” concepts but rather the principles that emerge from God’s creation. Subtraction occurs whenever the output result decreases with time. With every positive unit of effort, subtraction occurs with a loss or decrease in the output number. We all know the pain of seasons of subtraction. On the personal front, it might be losing loved ones. In ministry, losing team members is agonizing. Subtraction compels us to action. But subtraction is a normal part of life, including the life of a church. As we think about the first 500 churches founded in the first century after Jesus, all of these churches ultimately experienced subtraction all the way to their death. But the church is still around and vibrant today, but not because of the growth of churches, but because of the sending nature of churches.
Growth is the process of increasing in size. Growth can happen through addition, reproduction, or multiplication. Regardless of the strategy, model, or culture we embrace and pursue, growth is a primary goal. But real multipliers must throw off the shackles of an addition-growth scorecard, opting instead for the pursuit of multiplication growth. In all the turmoil of subtraction, we desperately pursue and seek out addition growth. But even addition is temporary.
C.S. Lewis once stated “You get to decide what legacy you will leave.” Don’t let the reality of subtraction discourage you, but do let it mess with your thinking. Addition-focused scorecards and cultures constrain us to less abundant thinking that moves from 1 to 2 to 3 to 4, and so on. By embracing accumulation cultures, we miss the abundance Jesus intends for us through multiplication. The best multipliers are leaders who surrender their personal addition-based scorecards to a far better scorecard using Jesus’ math. Multiplication carries the legacy of your church to future generations, far beyond the accumulation you achieve in your local context. That’s why sending out leaders to multiply and start new churches, and then continuing the movement into the future is so vitally important. Your sending capacity is your best asset, and your sending results could ultimately be your primary legacy.
We leaders here in EFC-MAYM believe our best days are ahead and not something we just dream about from time to time. The process of multiplication must be reflected in the local church. It is extremely difficult to multiply new ministries and ultimately new churches unless our congregations are multiplying new leaders and new groups at the local church level. We in Mid-America believe we must be about this sending of new leaders and ultimately new churches. Home missions team members are those regional leaders that have been designated by leaders from your seven Areas across Mid-America. And though our Friends congregations extend from south Texas in the Houston area all the way and including our newest church in St. Paul Minnesota, we do see signs of new life all around. So there are really great opportunities to expand the Kingdom of God. New opportunities require new vision and new leaders. Throughout the last two millenniums of church history, the Kingdom has advanced as new leaders and visionaries stepped into new territories and attempted new methods in obedience to our Lord Jesus’ command to go and make new disciples.
Our dream and our hope is that those apostolic workers from each congregation will join in the new opportunity to catch and share a new vision for sending new leaders on this exciting apostolic journey. May we be faithful. Please connect with these area multiplication leaders to whom you have asked to serve your Areas: Texas Area – Drew Davenport or David Byrne; COK Area – Nick Shaffer and Brad Wood; Western Area – Caty Zortman or Dennis McDowell; North Central Area – Jonathan Harkness; Northeast Area – Mike Herriges or Walt Mills; Tri-State Area – Josh LeeMasters; Central KS Area – Marc Compton or Carrie Corliss. These leaders and our new church planters already serving in various communities across Mid-America are our heroes, and God is calling numerous others of you to join their ranks in Jesus’ mission to build His Church to the glory of our Father in heaven. God is at work through His Holy Spirit! Amen.
– Randy Littlefield, Director of Multiplication Ministries
As we move into the month of November, it feels as though we are doing more than simply turning a page on the calendar. Things just feel different. The air is cooling, the leaves are disappearing, and the stores are bustling. Ready or not, the holiday season is suddenly upon us.
We are entering into a new season on the church calendar this month as well. The period between Pentecost (“fifty days” after Passover, celebrating the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Christian church) and Advent (the beginning of the Christian year, celebrating the “coming” of Christ into the world through his Incarnation and Virgin Birth) is commonly referred to as Ordinary Time. The final month of this Season after Pentecost, the period between All Saints’ Day and the First Sunday of Advent, has been designated as Kingdomtide in many church traditions, an intentional time of celebration and reflection on the reign of Christ.
Personally, I find it difficult to describe the ongoing, life-altering, transformational ministry of Jesus in the lives of his followers through the power of the Holy Spirit as “Ordinary Time.” I much prefer the term “Kingdomtide,” emphasizing the central message of the gospel which was continually proclaimed by Jesus and the early church: “The kingdom of God is at hand” (Mk 1:15).
Regardless of our personal views regarding the church calendar, I know that we can all agree on the centrality of proclaiming this “good news of the kingdom” (Mt 24:14), through both word and deed, until our Lord’s return. We have all been called to engage in a common mission as we join our hearts, minds, hands and feet in the corporate embodiment of our Lord’s prayer: “May your kingdom come, may your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt 6:10).
This is also in keeping with the good and beautiful dream that has been entrusted to us as an extended family of Friends here in Mid-America:
We dream that whatever is true in heaven be true on earth … in our local churches, in the communities where our churches serve, and in the family of churches called Evangelical Friends Church-Mid America Yearly Meeting.
So how might we embody our prayers during these high and holy days on the church calendar in such a way that “whatever is true in heaven be true on earth?” And how might we proclaim the good news during this season of Kingdomtide in such a way that our lives and the lives of our friends and neighbors might be genuinely transformed from something merely ordinary and lifeless to something truly extraordinary and life giving? And how might these seasonal practices become increasingly integrated into our daily lives throughout the remainder of the year as well, converting good and beautiful dreams into unforced rhythms of grace that faithfully reflect the rule and reign of Christ?
Each of us will need to answer these questions for ourselves, of course, but allow me to offer just one practical suggestion in order to help prime the pump just a bit:
Invite someone outside of your own family to join you for Thanksgiving dinner.
For some of us, this is already a common practice. If so, we might consider how to expand our guest lists this year. For others, this may be a brand new idea. If so, I would encourage you to try it on for size.
In an iCulture that is rooted in rugged individualism and increasingly saturated in national self-interest, the ministry of hospitality is an increasingly rare and priceless commodity these days. A recent study published in the American Sociological Review indicated that at least “25% of all Americans have no close confidants” whatsoever. And yet, from the very beginning of human history our Creator made it clear that “it is not good for man to be alone” (Ge 2:18). As Henri Nouwen once observed, “We are able to do many hard things, tolerate many conflicts, overcome many obstacles, and persevere under many pressures, but when we no longer experience ourselves as part of a caring community, we quickly lose faith.”
Inviting someone new to Thanksgiving dinner won’t instantly remove loneliness from the world, but it will certainly reduce the risk for the folks who gather around our tables. In the process, we may find that our capacity for extending Christ-like hospitality to our friends, neighbors, co-workers and even complete strangers will increase exponentially. We may even find that “loving foreigners” (Dt 10:19) and “caring for orphans and widows in their distress” (Ja 1:27) is no longer reserved for special seasons, but is considered nothing more than a normal Christian life. Before you know it, we may just end up living in such a way that our entire lives become so permeated with the passionate, relentless grace and mercy of our good and beautiful God that the people around us can’t help but proclaim, “the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
Josh Bunce, Bible/Theology Professor at Barclay College, will teach the three-month course on the New Testament, beginning November 6. Last month, Kevin Lee described Old Testament prophesies, foreshadowing Christ and New Testament events. Now Josh, with clear instruction, will give accurate meaning and interpretation of the New Testament events and teachings that underlie our Christian faith. Josh’s hope, and the desire of each of us, is to understand more fully God’s revelation in the Bible, so that through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we might be more effective ministers and church leaders in our world that desperately needs the Gospel. Josh is committed to help us in this noble mission. His first class will focus on the Gospels.
Josh Bunce is Chair of the Bible/Theology Department and Professor of Biblical Studies, Church History, Christian Beliefs, and Youth Ministry at Barclay College. He is a graduate of Barclay College, with Summa Cum Laude honor. He did graduate work at Friends University in the Master of Arts in Christian Ministries and earned the Master of Divinity degree from George Fox Evangelical Seminary. Josh was recorded as a Friends Minister in Northwest Yearly Meeting. He has Friends pastoral experience, having served on the pastoral team at Netarts Friends Church in Northwest Yearly Meeting. Josh is active in the Haviland Friends Church, where he provides volunteer leadership in worship and preaching. He is married to Marcy, and they are the loving parents of three beautiful children: Audrey, Ethan, and Clayton.
We wish for the greatest number of us to be able to participate in this creative learning experience, so we will offer live, interactive classes at these places: St Paul, MN Friends Church (at the home of Kumar Tamang, with Friends from Nepal and Bhutan), Canadian Yearly Meeting (Montreal Monthly Meeting at the home of David Millar, and the homes of Paul Etienne Mungombe and Jonathan Esongo, Friends from Congo), (Quebec City Meeting with Musato L. Dems and Alphee Ndahond, Friends from Congo), All Nations (formerly Sudanese Community) Friends Church in Omaha, Palmer, Alaska (at the home of David Miller), Noatak, Alaska (Robert Sheldon, Superintendent), Louisville, KY Friends Church and Stone Mountain Friends Church Atlanta, GA (with Friends from Rwanda and Burundi), Samson Retnaraj (EFM missionary in Nepal), Mncedisi Nkomo (pastor in Zambia), James Nduwayo (pastor in Rwanda), Faniyi Paul and Gabriel Sunday (pastors in Nigeria), Amuri Edouard with African Friends in Chicago, Anthony Moodie at the Dover Friends Church in Jamaica, Kickapoo Friends Center,Indianapolis, with Steve Turner, Lighthouse Fellowship Church (at the home of Jerry and Mary Louthan), Friends Community Church (Angleton), Neighborhood Friends Church (at the home of Tom and Bonnie Bousman), Friends Ministry Center (Wichita), Bangor Liberty Friends Church, North Newton (at the home of Merl and Eunice Kinser), Fowler Friends Church, New Hope Friends Church, and Barclay College (Jackson Hall).
For Friends unable to join us November 6, Drew Davenport will place the video recording of the class on YouTube at this link.
I invite you to expand your knowledge of the New Testament under the informed teaching of Josh Bunce. The class will begin at 7:00 p.m. central time on November 6.
*While I thoroughly enjoy the ministry of writing, there are times when it seems even more helpful to borrow the words of a fellow colleague. As I was preparing to pen an article for this particular edition of Insights, focusing on the celebration of Pastor Appreciation Month, I came across the following words of wisdom from Pastor Eric Geiger, and I share them here with great pleasure. The original article in its entirety can be found on Eric’s blog.
– David O. Williams, General Superintendent
October is fast approaching, which means so is “Pastor Appreciation Month.” Very few folks celebrate Pastor Appreciation Month, and I am not advocating that it become a more prominent holiday on our calendars. While I am grateful for those in our churches who express appreciation to pastors during October, it is far better for the pastors, their families, and the churches they serve if the love, support, and encouragement is ongoing. Below are two important passages and five gifts we should give our pastors.
“Remember your leaders who have spoken God’s word to you. As you carefully observe the outcome of their lives, imitate their faith … obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account, so that they can do this with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you. Pray for us; for we are convinced that we have a clear conscience, wanting to conduct ourselves honorably in everything.”
(Hebrews 13:7, 17-18)
“The elders who are good leaders should be considered worthy of an ample honorarium, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says: Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain, and, the worker is worthy of his wages.”
(1 Timothy 5:17-18)
Pray for them. The greatest gift you can give your pastors is prayer. Pray that the Lord will keep them to Himself, pure and blameless (1 Timothy 3:2). Pray they will persevere in life and doctrine (1 Timothy 4:16). And pray for their families as their families shoulder the burden of ministry alongside them. As you pray for your pastors, you will find yourself loving them more and more. You can’t pray for someone and despise them at the same time.
Imitate their faith. Of course, this is a challenge for leaders to be imitable, to live holy lives in response to the grace of God. And obviously this does not mean our pastors are perfect, as the writer of Hebrews has clearly articulated Jesus as the only perfect One. But this does mean we should learn from our pastors; we should put into practice the faith we see displayed in them.
Follow their lead. In His providence, God places pastors in their places of ministry. The Lord gives them unique gifts and specific passion for the churches they serve and the communities they serve in. Their passion, sense of mission, and specific gifting will and should impact the direction of the church.
Pay them well. This is biblical. The church’s goal should not be to “starve the pastor to keep him humble.” That is the Lord’s work, not the work of the finance committee. Too many pastors and their families are under unnecessary financial stress because some churches are not generous in this manner.
Help them love their families well. Pastors must be able to love and shepherd their own families well if they are to lead the people of God (1 Timothy 3:5). Help your pastors love their families well by not putting expectations on them that would equate to neglecting their families if they actually lived up to the expectations. Rejoice that your pastors disappoint others by not accepting all invitations so that they may invest more in their own families.
A pastor never “clocks out.” A pastor is a pastor all of the time. The responsibility is enormous as, to quote Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the pastor “is given charge of souls.” Let’s encourage, love, and support our pastors as they seek to faithfully fulfill all the duties of their ministries.
Here is the latest update from our south Texas leaders regarding recovery efforts among our Houston area Friends churches:
The clean up is mostly done and out to the curb. The sheet rock, carpet, and other ruined items have been removed from homes. We did not have the wind damage with Harvey and so the clean up of trees and lawn debris is minimal. We are now somewhere between the waiting and reconstruction phases. We are waiting for insurance adjusters, rejection letters, FEMA awards, and available supplies. YES, we are needing to reconstruct our homes and churches. YES we need SKILLED manpower to do this. The time for massive groups of unskilled, grunt type labor is past. We are beginning to look for skilled labor that can drywall, tape/float, paint, install cabinetry, flooring, siding, roofers, etc. This includes small groups of people that have a balance of skilled and teachable volunteers. Some of our churches/homes will be ready for these groups very soon. We will have need of groups for a few months to come. If you are able to provide a group or groups please contact Robyn Burns at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please indicate how many workers, what skills they possess, and when they are available so we can plug that into the needs present. With God’s help and a lot of prayer, we hope to plug the right group into the right church to help the right situation.
We have received close to $10,000 so far in donations from our extended family of Friends from across EFC-NA. Thanks so much for your ongoing encouragement and support!
– David O. Wiliams
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“The Church must be forever building, and always decaying, and always being restored.” –T.S. Elliot
You may know me as part of Communitas in Wichita, or you might know me as the 2nd daughter of Randy & Charlene Littlefield. I grew up in the Friends Church, starting out at Northridge Friends and then to Linwood Friends when it was planted in Wichita. When I was nine, my dad left Pizza Hut Inc., and we moved to Friendswood where my dad attended HGST and worked as the Associate Superintendent of Church Planting with EFC-MA. During the 4 years we were in Friendswood, Friendswood Friends Church was home, but we traveled to many Texas Area churches and church plants, encouraging new works and mission, many of them cross-cultural and/or urban. As a fourth grader I remember calling folks out of a phone book in a phones-for-you campaign and also helping to literally build a new Life Ministries Center building in Houston’s fifth ward. My parents have always been pioneers and encouragers of innovation and have always valued sharing life with and advocating for those on the margins. Like Jesus’ model of discipleship, they took us kids along to serve and minister with them. For this example, I am so grateful.
I love the Friends Church. Not just because it’s my family heritage, but because I think we are rooted in exactly what the world needs and wants today. In an era of highly stylized forms of church with heirarchies and business models, the world is looking for genuine community where each one has a part to play. Friends can offer this.
You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:5)
In an era when culture is shifting rapidly, we must be about keeping the faith but adapting the practices. The mission field is next door and down the street and across town, and if we continue to treat mission as something that only happens “over there” or if we sit comfortably in our pews with a “come to us” mentality, we will not survive. If we adapt, it will be uncomfortable and there will be some failure, but ultimately, I believe Friends will get to be part of what God is doing in the world. THAT excites me.
Business as usual won’t cut it. I’m not saying to turn the ship on a dime or throw the baby out with the bath water, but I am suggesting that we reorient ourselves back to our roots, harness what made us Friends in the first place, and move into the future with a sense of hope and adventure and determination, with a renewed passion for Christ and His Kingdom.
“No one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins” (Mk 2:22)
I’m encouraged by the ministries, initiatives, and new churches among Evangelical Friends in our region that reach out to the community with the message of hope. Let’s keep asking, “What else is the Holy Spirit inviting us to be a part of as salt and light in our neighborhoods and communities?” Let’s keep experimenting. Let’s keep moving.
Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have laid hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize of God’s heavenly calling in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14
As I write these words, I am gazing at a one of my favorite images. It is a photograph I took a few years ago while hiking around Sprague Lake, a pristine mountain oasis located at the south end of Rocky Mountain National Park. At the center of this picture there is an alpine lake, surrounded by a vast forest of Douglas fir and Ponderosa pine. Enthroned in the background are the majestic, snow-capped summits that preside over this portion of the Continental Divide: Flattop, Thatchtop, Chief’s Head, Long’s Peak. In the foreground, at the bottom of the photograph, there is an empty bench made of rough, hand-hewn timber that has my name on it, or so it would seem. As naturalist John Muir was known to say, “The mountains are calling and I must go.”
As an avid hiker and nature lover, this image continually reminds me to give thanks for the breath-taking beauty I have been privileged to behold, while stirring within me a fresh hunger for exploring the multitude of new destinations that are just waiting to be discovered. More importantly, as a disciple of Jesus Christ, the empty bench serves as a regular reminder that our risen Lord is inviting me to recognize his presence, to engage him in conversation, to join him on the journey, and to allow him to be the strength of my life at every point along the way: “I lift my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth” (Ps 121:1).
This is easier said than done, of course. Like everyone else, there are an endless number of competing voices pulling at me from every direction from morning to night, both internally and externally. And I want very much to respond to them, to please them, or to appease them, at the very least. I want to have a sense that I am valued, appreciated, affirmed, loved.
But among the many capricious voices clamoring for my attention, there is but one Voice that has the ability to satisfy the deepest longings of my heart. Augustine was right: “Our hearts are restless until they rest in You, O Lord.” At the end of the day, whether we realize it or not, we ultimately live, move and have our being before an Audience of One.
This became unusually clear to me seventeen years ago during my first weeks on the job as a professor at Barclay College here in Haviland. I moved to the sunflower state by myself in August of 2000, leaving my wife and six children in Ohio, waiting for our house to sell. Although I was extremely excited to begin my new adventure on the college campus, I was less than thrilled to do it by myself. I was the new kid on the block, living alone in an empty house, occasionally feeling like I was stranded on a desert island in the middle of a tiny, remote village in the middle of … somewhere.
After enduring two or three weeks of this solitary confinement, the Lord decided it was time to crash my little pity party. As usual, He did so in a very kind and unexpected manner. As I was laying down for bed one night, I noticed something that had been there all the time. It was there when I sat down for dinner, it was there when I rode in the car, it was there when I flew on the plane, and it was there when I was at work in my office.
“It” was an empty chair. Except that it wasn’t empty at all. The Lord was gently reminding me that what appeared to be an empty chair was, in a very real sense, continually occupied by the One who promised to be with me “always, to the very end of the age” (Mt 28:20). He was with me when I laid my head on the pillow each night, when I got into the car each morning, when I took my seat on the plane, and when I sat down to work on each and every course syllabus. He was with me, and He wasn’t going anywhere. He was just hoping that I would notice.
As this simple reality began to sink in, the Lord began to transform my loneliness into a whole new appreciation for solitude. It wasn’t long before the silence became increasingly welcomed as a personal invitation to engage in intimate, uninterrupted conversation and ongoing companionship with Christ. As Paul Tillich has said, “Loneliness is a word to describe the pain of being alone; solitude is a word to describe the glory of being alone.”
In time, the house in Ohio sold and my family was finally able to join me in Kansas. As thankful as I was to have them all with me, I have to confess that I was somewhat disappointed at first to discover that it was suddenly much harder to find an empty chair!
The lesson was not wasted, however. I am continuing to benefit from the discipline of the empty chair. To this day, when I find an empty chair next to me along the way, I am regularly reminded that it is not empty at all. The Lord is with me, and he’s not going anywhere. He is my constant Companion and Friend. He is just waiting for me to acknowledge his presence, to engage him in conversation, and to join him on the journey. And when I do, my spirit sings for joy: “And he walks with me, and he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own. And the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known” (see “In the Garden” by C. Austin Miles).
May our Lord Jesus continue to bless you and keep you, dear friends, and may you experience great joy on your journey as you embrace his presence in your midst!
Here is the latest update from our Friends in south Texas (as of September 5, 2017) as they recover from the impact of Hurricane Harvey:
The folks in Friendswood were hit especially hard by Hurricane Harvey, but they have also been given a unique opportunity to provide ministries of compassion to their friends and neighbors. According to Molly Black, at least 36 homes of church members were seriously damaged by the flood waters. At least 24 of these homes have already been gutted (with most belongings, carpeting and drywall out on the curb while things dry inside), and they hope to finish with the remaining homes by the end of this week. Over 100 volunteers have been actively involved in these efforts, many of whom have provided ministry to more than 50 young children who are trying to make sense of it all. The congregation met for worship on Sunday morning, and the church office reopened today (the office will be closed on Wednesday and Thursday for additional recovery time, but will reopen again on Friday). You can find additional updates on the Friendswood website.
Pastor Jim Barclift reports that his home on the north side of Houston is still in the process of repair, but he and Cindy are safe and sound and living with their daughter in a nearby neighborhood. Lighthouse had three homes of church members that were flooded, but since the church property was not damaged it is now being used as a Relief Distribution Center, providing food, clothes and other essential items for the residents of League City.
At nearby Bayshore, Pastor Karl Newmann is leading efforts to assist the three or four church families whose homes were flooded, but he is also giving thanks for minimal damage to their church property, which they hope to offer to work crews in the coming days as a base for long term rebuilding projects.
The church property at Friends Community (Angleton) was also spared any serious damage, as well as Pastor David Davenport’s home, due in large part to the timely efforts of the entire Davenport family, who laid sand bags around the perimeter of the house before the nearby rivers and creeks crested. David remains concerned for four of their church families who live in the Lake Jackson area, since the flood waters are not expected to crest until later this week.
David Davenport also reports that three or four homes of members from Liverpool were flooded, but the church property was not damaged. Pastor Bubba Rouse and his wife, Shelly, are staying with family in the area as they wait for the flood waters to recede.
Our Friends from Northshore had over a foot of water in the church last week, and are continuing the process of clean up and recovery. Pastor Robyn Burns-Marko currently serves as our Texas Area Elder, and will be meeting today with Karl Newmann, our Texas Area Superintendent, to put together a strategic plan for ongoing recovery and rebuilding efforts among our Houston area churches in the days ahead. David Byrne, Director of the Coalition for Hispanic Ministries (CHM), will be assisting them as well.
Our yearly meeting office in Wichita is serving as the primary collection and distribution center for financial assistanceto our Friends in south Texas. You can send your donations directly to the Ministry Center (2018 W Maple, Wichita, KS, 67213) or you can contribute online here. Just make sure and clearly designate any gifts for “Hurricane Harvey Relief.”
Here is a link to a video that was prepared by a member of Morningside Friends Church in Port St. Lucie, Florida (please keep these folks in prayer as well as they brace themselves for Hurricane Irma).
– David O. Williams, General Superintendent
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David Tamang, the tenth member of our Saltshaker team, was such a blessing to everyone he met. From the moment he joined our team in India we felt complete. Not only was he encouraging and a humble servant but he pushed us all to be better. Having a better idea of what the culture was like, David helped us to have some context into how to love the people better in both countries. David, lead our team through example on a daily basis reminding us that Christ was at the center of everything we did. While in Bhutan he was our official driver and “tour guide” and wore the national dress everyday. We miss David so much as he created a space in each of our hearts. -Jenna
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Kevin Lee, our teacher for our new Institute course in the “The Survey of the Old Testament,” will reveal to us the glorious beauty to be found in these ancient Scriptures, during the months of August, September, and October. Kevin teaches with the high view of the Bible held by George Fox, who claimed, “The Scriptures were given forth by the Spirit of God.” Therefore, we will know God more fully as we understand the Scriptures more fully. May we grow in our knowledge of God and the Scriptures during this course in the Old Testament, starting August 7, 2017.
Kevin Lee has a ministry of law enforcement with the Lyon County Sheriff’s Department in Kansas (the Emporia region). His background includes college teaching and administration, church leadership, and studies in Bible, theology, and pastoral ministry. With a true pastor’s heart, Kevin is able to render a very unique ministry in his law enforcement work. He has numerous opportunities, in ways that many of us do not have, to touch people’s lives with the compassionate love of Christ. Before assuming his present work, Kevin Lee was Vice President for Student Services, Head Soccer Coach, and Professor in the Bible/Ministry Division at Barclay College. Specifically, he taught Old Testament and New Testament courses in the Distance Learning program. He is also well rooted in the Friends Church. Kevin grew up in Northridge Friends Church. After completing an undergraduate degree in Bible and Business Administration at Barclay College, he served as a youth pastor for ten years in Evangelical Friends Church-Mid America Yearly Meeting (Hutchinson and Bethel Friends Churches). In 2005, his family moved to southern California, where at the Friends Center at Azusa Pacific University, he earned the degree, Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies. While studying for the Master’s degree, Kevin served as Minister to College Students at Friends Community Church in Brea, California. He also has experience in banking and substitute teaching and coaching in the public school system. Kevin is married to Jennifer, and they are the loving parents of three beautiful children: Nathan, Hannah, and Jessa.
Because God has blessed our Institute so abundantly, we desire to share the fruits of our teaching. Technology has made possible our ability to hear, see, and interact with Kevin and one another. This we will do at the following locations: St Paul, MN Friends Church (at the home of Kumar Tamang, with Friends from Nepal and Bhutan), Canadian Yearly Meeting (Montreal Monthly Meeting at the home of David Millar, and the homes of Paul Etienne Mungombe and Jonathan Esongo, Friends from Congo), (Quebec City Meeting with Musato L. Dems and Alphee Ndahond, Friends from Congo), All Nations (formerly Sudanese Community) Friends Church in Omaha, Palmer, Alaska (at the home of David Miller), Noatak, Alaska (Robert Sheldon, Superintendent), Louisville, KY Friends Church and Stone Mountain Friends Church, Atlanta, GA (with Friends from Rwanda and Burundi), Samson Retnaraj (EFM missionary in Nepal), Mncedisi Nkomo (pastor in Zambia), Friends in Jamaica, Kickapoo Friends Center, Indianapolis, with Steve Turner, Lighthouse Fellowship Church (at the home of Jerry and Mary Louthan), Friends Community Church (Angleton), Neighborhood Friends Church (at the home of Tom and Bonnie Bousman), Friends Ministry Center (Wichita), Bangor Liberty Friends Church, Fowler Friends Church, Faith Friends Church, North Newton (at the home of Merl and Eunice Kinser), New Hope Friends Church, Friends Church at Liberal, and Barclay College (Jackson Hall).
Some Friends prefer a time more convenient than Monday nights. Graciously, Drew Davenport places the video recorded classes on YouTube. A good model to follow in viewing them is to gather a group in your church or area, so that you may discuss the class presentation together. Click here to go to the link.
Kevin Lee’s hope is that through his teaching, the Holy Spirit will open to us new insights into the Truths of God that are revealed in the precious Scriptures. The first class in the Old Testament series is August 7, 2017 at 7:00 p.m. central time. At 6:50, we will hear the story or testimony of one of our Institute Friends.
Inviting you to join us as Kevin opens to us the fascinating beauty of the Old Testament,
I was looking through my dresser drawers the other day and I came to a startling realization: I have way too many t-shirts. The problem is that I really like t-shirts, and I find it surprisingly difficult to part with them. After all, t-shirts are readily available, relatively inexpensive and extremely comfortable. They can be easily re-purposed as rags, quilts, pet bedding or painting attire. They also make great souvenirs and serve as portable billboards for your favorite people, places, teams and causes.
The most recent addition to my t-shirt collection is one of my very favorites so far. It’s a trekking t-shirt that features a solitary hiker and a solitary tree framed by the following caption: “Not All Who Wander Are Lost.” This caption is actually a portion of a short poem written by Bilbo Baggins, the main protagonist in The Hobbit and a primary character in the Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien. The poem presents an encrypted description of Aragorn, an heir to the royal throne who is currently wandering throughout the land as a vagabond ranger known as Strider. The poem is used to help convince Bilbo’s nephew, Frodo, to trust Aragorn even in his Strider guise. Aragorn later recites the first two lines when he is attempting to get Frodo to trust him enough to join him on his journey.
For those who may not be familiar with these fanciful tales of Middle Earth, it may be helpful to note that Tolkien, a devout Christian, created them to serve as allegorical representations of Christ’s kingdom here on earth. As such, Aragorn (and to varying degrees, Gandalf and Frodo) embodies much of the character of Christ. Not only does he wander in the wilderness before revealing his true identity as the chosen one, but through multiple acts of sacrificial love on behalf of his friends, Aragorn helps to save all of Middle Earth from the demonic sway of Sauron and his dark forces of evil. Sound familiar?
As I reflect upon my first three years of ministry as general superintendent for EFC-MAYM, there have been many days when it seems as though Mid America bears an uncanny resemblance to Middle Earth. To be honest, I have frequently felt a bit like Frodo, just a little Hobbit from the Shire. One day he is minding his own business and enjoying a relatively simple life with his friends and neighbors, and the next thing you know he is suddenly summoned to fulfill a new and unsolicited mission, one that is way above his pay grade, in response to the call of a great and godly king who, like Aragorn, typically appears in the distressing disguise of a vagabond ranger who is relentless in his determination to free the entire land from its captivity to the dark forces of this fallen world.
While there are those rare times now and then when the king chooses to reveal his true identity in all of its splendor, more often than not, his character is made manifest most clearly in the midst of the seemingly mundane, messy, every day, ordinary events of human life. And every life has a story to tell.
Far from fanciful tales, the stories we have to tell here in EFC-MAYM are about very real people from very real places who find themselves fighting all-too-real battles. Having visited all of our churches (including multiple visits to many churches) during my extensive travels across Mid-America over the past three years, I can speak from firsthand experience when I say that we are all just a bunch of ordinary Hobbits after all, an equally flawed yet remarkably resilient family of Friends, representing a wide variety of racial, ethnic, religious, geographic, linguistic and cultural backgrounds, and we all share a common condition:
We are all harassed and helpless, left to our own devices, like sheep without a shepherd.
We are all longing to be free from Satan’s reign of terror upon this fallen planet.
We are all weary of the wreckage left behind in the wake of sin and death.
We are all desperately seeking salvation, in all of its multi-faceted expressions.
We are all passionately and unconditionally loved by our great and godly King, who also just happens to be our Creator, Redeemer and most faithful Friend and Companion, the One who is absolutely relentless in the pursuit of his mission to “seek and save that which was lost.”
As we gather for the 146th sessions of EFC-MAYM this month in Haviland, we will pay special attention to the Israelite’s long, arduous, transformational journey through the wilderness on their way to the promised land. We can learn much from those fellow sojourners who have walked before us on this trail of faith (cf. Heb 11), but if we have any hope of completing the journey ourselves, we must “fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer [trail blazer] and perfecter [trail guide] of our faith” (Heb 12:2), for he is our one and only reliable Way in the wilderness. Over time, as we learn to follow him even more faithfully, we find our lives slowly, surely and increasingly reoriented as we wander together along this truly transformational journey with Jesus, our vagabond King. And it isn’t long until we come to the very same conclusion as J.R.R. Tolkien and every other faithful friend and fellow traveling companion who has gone before us:
“Not all who wander are lost.”
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