‘Updates from Dave’

News From Dave

Friday, November 16th, 2018

Dear Friends,

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens” (Ecclesiastes 3:1).

In the fall of 2013, after many months of prayerful discernment, I followed what I believed to be a clear impression from the Lord to express my willingness to serve as your yearly meeting superintendent, if called upon to do so.   It is now five years later and, after many months of prayerful discernment, I am once again following what I believe to be a clear impression from the Lord to announce my resignation. Lord willing, I anticipate completing my time as general superintendent on June 30, 2019.

There are many factors that have led to this decision, of course, and it is impossible to summarize the entire process in a short letter, but it has become increasingly clear to me in recent days that my season in this role is coming to a close and it is time to pass the torch to another torch bearer.  As servants of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are all called to be faithful stewards of the resources entrusted to us by our Master, and to do so with open hands, knowing that these resources are not ours but His.

It has been a great honor to serve our extended family of Friends here in Mid-America in this role.  My greatest hope and prayer is that I have been able, in some small measure, to bring glory to our heavenly Father and to enhance the work of His kingdom here on earth.

Carol and I are not sure exactly what the Lord may have in store for us during the next season of life and ministry, and I don’t know at this point what relationship we may have with the yearly meeting, but we are committed to supporting the mission and vision of EFC-MAYM wherever we may be called to serve in the days ahead.  Regardless of our job title, we will continue to love and support our fellow pastors and church leaders to the very best of our ability.

As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, dear friends and colleagues, my heart is overflowing with deep gratitude for each one of you …

“I thank my God every time I remember you.  In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry in on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:3-6).

Grace and peace,

– David O. Williams, General Superintendent

The Prayer of Incompetence

Wednesday, November 7th, 2018

As you may remember, the theme for our most recent Ministry Conference last summer was “Seasons of the Soul: Rediscovering the Ancient Paths of Prayer.”  You may also remember that I repeatedly encouraged those of us in attendance to remain open to expanding our prayer portfolios by incorporating new and life-giving ways to pray when the Lord brings them to our attention.  Well, I had yet another opportunity to practice what I preach recently during a period of time when I found myself so physically, emotionally and spiritually depleted that I simply did not know how to pray.

It was at this point that our Lord graciously introduced me to the “prayer of incompetence,” a phrase made popular by Basil Hume, the late Archbishop of Westminster.  In his book, Searching for God, Cardinal Hume offers this cool cup of water for those of us who may find ourselves wandering in a spiritual desert:

“Often we find ourselves … in what we term the ‘prayer of incompetence,’ where method is useless and seems to be an obstacle and yet, at the same time, there is not an awareness of God, and a seemingly conscious response is impossible … this is a state in which many of us find ourselves for a considerable time.  In the course of this prayer, which does not seem to be a prayer, we have to learn that prayer is essentially a giving to God as well as a receiving from him.  It is also a time to learn to recognize our limitations.”

As a recovering Pharisee, I immediately resonated with this phrase, and with this additional reminder from Thérèse of Lisieux: “Prayer arises, if at all, from incompetence, otherwise there is no need of it.”

Thankfully, Hume not only normalizes the struggle, but goes on to recommend a few, simple practices that may help speak to our condition during such times:

  • “Adopt the attitude of waiting on God, of just being present at prayer even though the effort seems to be unrewarding … God speaks to us essentially and above all in the depths of our being, inspiring in us a greater wanting for God; and this, I think, is one of the characteristic fruits of the life of prayer; a greater desire for God.”
  • “Accept the condition of being apparently abandoned by God … how rewarding it is when we remember, finding ourselves in a mood of frustration, to thank God that we are in this state; to recognize that it is obviously what he thinks best for us!”
  • “Abide [dwell] in the attributes of God – the important ones, the obvious ones: to dwell on the thought of God’s love, to dwell on the thought of God’s mercy, sometimes simply to repeat phrases from the Gospel; snippets of prayer we have learned at one time or another, just to take our attention away from other.”

Again, these were life-giving words of wisdom for me at an unusually difficult time on my journey with Jesus.  My guess is thatmost of you may find yourselves in a similar place at times as well.  If so, we can give thanks together for that “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1) who have gone before us, whose lives and testimonies provide much needed words of encouragement just when we need it the most.  But above all, we can rejoice in the fact that when we find ourselves in a place where we don’t know how to pray, we can rest in the arms of our good and beautiful God, the Lover of our souls, the One who passionately and persistently prays for us (cf. Mt 6:8; Lk 22:32; Rm 8:26; Heb 7:25).  He will always “remain faithful, even when we are faithless” (2 Tim 2:13).

– David O. Williams, General Superintendent

 

The God Who Sees Me

Thursday, September 6th, 2018

Life is hard.  That is a fact, and it is one that rings true for each and every resident of planet earth.  It is also a fact that life is much harder for some of us than for others.

According to recent studies, 1 in 4 children experience some form of child abuse or neglect in their lifetimes,¹ and 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men experience domestic violence.² To make matters even worse, national news outlets recently reported that more than 300 “predator priests” have been credibly accused of sexually abusing more than 1,000 child victims from six Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania alone.³

The ugly fact is that it is likely that you or another member of your family has been or will be a victim of traumatic abuse, neglect or domestic violence at some point in life.  The worst part is that this pain is most often inflicted by a close relative or trusted friend, the very people who are supposed to keep us safe and sound.

As usual, the Bible is not blind to this fact.  Bible characters are very real people who lived in very real places at very real times.  Times that were not so different from ours.

One of these characters was a young Egyptian girl named Hagar (cf. Genesis 16), a runaway slave who fled to the Canaanite desert in response to an escalating pattern of abuse and neglect at the hand of her masters, Sarai (Sarah) and Abram (Abraham).  Hagar was pregnant as well, so she was accompanied on this treacherous journey by her unborn child. A surrogate mother, despised and rejected, forced to wander in the wilderness. Hungry, homeless, hopeless and all alone … or so she thought.

In the midst of her desert of despair, Hagar experienced a divine visitation. An angel of the Lord appeared to her with a hopeful and promising message to deliver.  Hagar would not die in the desert. She would return home and give birth to a son named Ishmael (“God hears”), and his descendants would be “too numerous to count.”

Once the angel had departed, Hagar gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me” (El Roi), for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”

I couldn’t help but think of this story earlier this week, when a new foster baby arrived at our daughter, Sarah’s home.  His name is not Ishmael, but I have no doubt that our good and beautiful God has heard his cries. El Roi has clearly seen the broken lives of his birth parents and the traumatic series of events that ultimately led to this little one’s arrival at his new foster home.  And now, perhaps for the very first time in his very brief life, he is safe and sound, delivered from the desert of despair by “the God who sees.”

According to the apostle James, the brother of our Lord Jesus, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27).  Abuse and neglect make children into orphans and parents into widows. God sees them. Do you?

We have a dream of God’s Kingdom coming to heal the sick and the broken … the homeless and hungry knowing that God cares and has sent friends to help them … orphans and widows and the sick believing that their Creator knows their name.

“We Have a Dream: A Commissioning Prayer for EFC-MAYM”

“A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families.” – Psalm 68:5-6, NIV

– David O. Williams, General Superintendent

 

¹ https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/childabuseandneglect/index.html

² https://ncadv.org/statistics

³ https://www.cnn.com/2018/08/14/us/pennsylvania-catholic-church-grand-jury/index.html

Giants in the Land

Monday, August 13th, 2018

As our children and grandchildren return to school this month, one of the first questions they will surely be asked is, “So what did you do on your summer vacation?”

As for me and my house, we love to camp, so one of the highlights of our summer was to embark on a 10-day road trip across the American west with my younger brother and his family.  During our 4,000-mile pilgrimage we were able to take in a staggering variety of breath-taking vistas and awe-inspiring wonders of the natural world along the way.  Needless to say, it was an epic adventure. But there was one particular sight that stood out to us above all of the rest … literally.

During our visit to Yosemite National Park, we took a short yet strenuous hike down a peaceful trail that leads to the Tuolumne Grove, one of the few places left in the entire world (outside of fairy tale books, that is) where you can stand in the presence of genuine giants and live to tell about it.  The Giant Sequoia trees that populate the western Sierra Nevada 

may be gentle giants, but by no means does this reduce the “shock and awe” factor when you behold them for the first time.
Giant Sequoias are the largest trees in the world.  Record trees have been measured to be over 300 feet tall and more than 50 feet in diameter, with bark as much as 3 feet thick at the base.  With a total weight of several million pounds, these pine pillars are true freaks of nature.  Like Frodo and his friends from the Shire, we all felt like Hobbits in the presence of the Ents that day during our visit to the Tuolomne Grove.

Upon further review, however, we discovered that there is much more to Giant Sequoias than initially meets the eye.  What I found most fascinating and most compelling in correlation to Christian discipleship and spiritual formation, in particular, is what is actually required for Great Sequoias to grow so strong and tall:

COMMUNITY: Giant Sequoias cannot survive on their own.  They only grow in groves.  Their shallow roots can extend more than 200 feet from each tree, creating a massive, interdependent root system. The sustainability of each individual tree hinges upon the health and vitality of the wider community.  There are no lone rangers among Giant Sequoias. Cooperation is non-negotiable. 

Giant Sequoias must remain closely connected to one another in order to thrive … and so must we (cf. Ephesians 4:15-16). 

ADVERSITY: Giant Sequoias cannot reproduce without the stress and pressure that accompany an occasional forest fire.  Fire brings hot air high into the canopy which in turn dries and opens the Sequoia cones so they can release their seeds. Periodic wildfires also clear competing vegetation.  Without fire, other shade-loving trees will crowd out young Sequoia seedlings, preventing germination. 

Giant Sequoias must be willing to endure the heat in order to bear fruit … and so must we (cf. James 1:2-4). 

LONGEVITY:  Giant Sequoias are no overnight sensations.  In fact, it has been documented that some of these trees have been around for more than 3,500 years, dating back to the days of Moses and the founding of the nation of Israel. Giant Sequoias are completely counter-cultural in this respect.  They don’t speak the language of instant gratification. On the contrary, they stand as towering testimonies to the truth that the best and most beautiful things in life take time. 

Giant Sequoias require lots of time in order to reach their full potential … and so do we (cf. Ecclesiastes 3:11a).

When our family looks back on this year’s summer vacation, I have no doubt that we will always have many wonderful memories.  But when we recall our time in California, I hope we will never forget the larger-than-life lessons we learned during our visit to the Tuolumne Grove at Yosemite National Park.  Community, Adversity and Longevity are not only essential for the healthy growth and development of Giant Sequoias.  They are essential for the healthy growth and development of spiritual giants as well.

– David O. Williams, General Superintendent

Adventures in Missing the Point

Monday, May 7th, 2018

I recently had the privilege of attending my niece’s wedding at Buckingham Friends Meeting House, located in a quaint village just a short drive from Philadelphia.  It was a beautiful ceremony, but it had extra special significance for our family, as we all found ourselves sitting in the very same place and on the very same benches where our very first American ancestors once sat, most of whom were laid to rest in a nearby cemetery.

Established in 1702, Buckingham Friends Meeting served as a house of worship for some of the earliest Quaker immigrants to this country.  Many of them were first generation Christians as well. The Friends movement was still relatively new, but its founding fathers and mothers were slowly disappearing (Margaret Fell died the same year that the meeting was opened). Now it was up to this new generation of Christ followers to carry the torch, faithfully and fearlessly bearing witness to the revolutionary gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in the New World.  And this they did, through great personal sacrifice, some of them giving their very lives in the process.

Sadly, it became painfully clear to me during my visit to Buckingham that the torch had been dropped at some point along the way. As I walked around the meeting house and read through the literature that was most prominently displayed, I was unable to find any direct reference to Jesus whatsoever. And yet it was George Fox himself who declared with great joy, “There is only one, even Christ Jesus, who can speak to thy condition.”

Some might describe this as a classic example of “mission drift.” Others might attribute it to an inevitable process of cultural adaptation and accommodation. I can only summarize my personal feelings that day with one word: heartbreaking. It was as if they were missing the whole point. To borrow from the Apostle Paul, it seemed as though they had embraced “a form of godliness” while “denying its power” (2 Tim 3:5). Correct me if I’m wrong, but were not the first Friends seeking to do the exact opposite?

As we look back over church history, including our own history as a people called Quakers, I would like to think that we might be smart enough to learn from our mistakes so that we don’t have to repeat them. But when I survey the overall health and vitality of the American church in general, and the Evangelical Friends Church in particular, I can’t help but wonder …

  • Like our friends in Buckingham, is it possible that we are devoting so much energy to preserving and protecting our Quaker traditions that we are missing the whole point of the gospel? (cf. Mk 7:9)
  • And are we also in danger of exchanging the very power of God for an empty form of godliness? (cf. 2 Tim 3:5)

I don’t have all of the answers, of course, but I would humbly offer these questions as potential “queries” that each of you may want to share with your congregations as well at some point in the near future.

In the midst of such growing concerns, I must tell you that I am encouraged by what appears to be happening at our two Friends-related colleges and universities here in Mid-America:

  • I recently finished teaching a course on “Spiritual Formation and the Transformational Journey” for students enrolled in the School of Graduate Studies at Barclay College.  The course concluded with a three-day, intensive, face-to-face gathering on the Barclay campus. It was a wonderful, life-giving experience for all of us, and I am deeply grateful to have a small part in helping Barclay continue to fulfill its critical, core mission as a community that is called “to prepare students in a Bible-centered environment for effective Christian life, service and leadership.” 
  • I had the privilege of speaking in chapel at Friends University several weeks ago during their Quaker Heritage Week, at which time the building that houses the graduate school was renamed in honor of John Woolman and Elizabeth Fry.  I was also invited to share this same message with the Board of Trustees during their spring meetings. I couldn’t be more thrilled by recent developments at
    Friends, as the University seeks to return to its roots as a “Christian University of Quaker heritage,” that “equips students to honor God and serve others by integrating their intellectual, spiritual and professional lives.”

During these increasingly dark and difficult days, when the hearts of so many appear to be “growing

 cold” (Mt 24:12), may those of us who are part of the extended family of Friends here in Mid-America “hold unswervingly to the hope we profess” (Heb 10:23) and to our core calling and true identity as faithful Friends of Jesus, remaining ever mindful of the words of our Lord Jesus himself: “You are my friends if you do what I command” (Jn 15:14).

For the love of God, we can’t afford to miss the point.

– David O. Williams, General Superintendent

The Primacy of Prayer

Thursday, April 19th, 2018

In his introduction to The Journal of George Fox, Quaker statesmen William Penn makes this fascinating observation regarding the enduring legacy of the man now known as the founder of Friends: “Above all, he excelled in prayer.”

This emphasis on the primacy of prayer in the life of our spiritual forefathers should come as no surprise for those of us who aspire to be faithful friends of Jesus in our own time and place. We follow a praying Savior, after all. According to the Gospel of Luke, often referred to as “the praying gospel,” nearly every transformational moment in Jesus’ life and ministry took place “as he was praying” (cf. Lk 3:21; 6:12; 9:16; 9:18; 9:29; 10:21; 11:1; 22:32; 22:44; 23:34; 23:46; 24:30; 24:50).

I have been following Jesus for more than 40 years now, and I must confess that I have found prayer to be the most essential and most challenging of all the spiritual disciplines. But what has helped me most in recent years is the discovery that prayer is not limited to a few, specific methods or models that are unique to any one Christian denomination or church tradition. As my good friend, Fil Anderson likes to say, “There are as many ways to pray as there are moments in the day.”

Over the years, I have found that the more my prayer portfolio has expanded, the more freedom, depth and joy I have experienced in my walk with Christ. This has also helped me to more readily embrace biblical admonitions to pray in ways that once seemed unattainable, such as “pray always” (Lk 18:1) and “pray without ceasing” (1 Th 5:17). I have found it much more do-able to pray always when I am better equipped to pray all ways, and much more fruitful and effective to pray as I can, not as I can’t.

But perhaps the most life-giving and liberating reality I have discovered on my journey is the fact that we are never alone when it comes to this life of prayer.  Scripture reminds us that God the Father “knows what you need before you ask him” (Mt 6:8), that God the Son “always lives to intercede” for us (Heb 7:25), and that God the Spirit “intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express” (Rm 8:26).

As we learn to pray with God, not just to God, we grow to understand that prayer is simply a matter of staying in the conversation, i.e., continually and intentionally resting in the gracious embrace of our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, the Lover of our souls, the One who longs to communicate with us “face to face, as a man speaks with his friend” (Ex 33:11).  And somehow, in the midst of this unfolding friendship with God, we are mysteriously and progressively transformed in such a way that others can actually see in us an imperfect yet increasingly authentic reflection of the very face of God (cf. 2 Co 3:18). As C.S. Lewis has testified, “prayer doesn’t change God; it changes me.”

We will be continuing this critical conversation on the primacy of prayer during our 2018 Ministry Conference, to be held July 26-29 on the campus of Friends University in Wichita. Our conference theme, “Seasons of the Soul: Rediscovering the Ancient Paths of Prayer,” will be enriched by the ministry of our guest speaker, Fil Anderson, Executive Director of Journey Resources, and it will be reinforced through participation in a wide variety of prayer exercises throughout our time together during the 147th annual gathering of the Evangelical Friends Church-Mid America Yearly Meeting.

Please make plans now to join us at this year’s Ministry Conference in Wichita. More details will be coming soon!

– David O. Williams, General Superintendent

A New Monasticism

Tuesday, March 6th, 2018

During this season of Lent, Carol and I have been participating in a weekly online retreat entitled “Into the Wilderness.”  The theme passage for each week is taken from one of the many biblical references to those times when God’s people have been called to spend extended time in the desert, those unusually dry, difficult and dangerous places where, ironically, God chooses to do some of His very best and most transformative work.

One of the original Desert Fathers and a pioneer of the modern monastic movement, Anthony of Egypt (251-356) was called to leave the comforts of home at a young age and go into the vast wilderness that lies between the Nile River and the Red Sea.  There he spent twenty years of his life alone in a cave in an effort to wean himself away from the trappings of an increasingly pagan form of Christianity.  Like so many before and after him, Anthony was driven deep into the desert not out of fear, but out of a desperate desire to discover a purer, simpler and more primitive path of Christian discipleship. 

Abba Anthony emerged from his cave a changed man, passionately devoted to a dynamic ministry of preaching, teaching, healing and spiritual direction. Anthony’s biography, an ancient literary classic written by Athanasius of Alexandria, led many of his contemporaries to reconsider the validity of the Christian faith, including Augustine of Hippo, who went on to become one of the most influential Christian leaders in church history.

More recently, an increasing number of church leaders have suggested that the body of Christ is in dire need of a fresh injection of Anthony’s monastic spirit in our own time and place.  In fact, twentieth century German pastor and theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, penned the following statement in a letter to his brother in January of 1935 while attempting to remain a faithful disciple of Jesus during the Nazi reign of terror led by Adolf Hitler:

“The restoration of the church will surely come only from a new type of monasticism which has nothing in common with the old but a complete lack of compromise in a life lived in accordance with the Sermon on the Mount in the discipleship of Christ.  I think it is time to gather people together to do this.”

During these opening days of the twenty-first century, a “new monasticism” has been gradually emerging at the edges of the established church.  These holy experiments in radical Christian discipleship can be found within nearly every Christian tradition, including our extended family of Evangelical Friends here in Mid-America.

Friends of Lawrence (formerly known as Lawrence Friends Church) is one such example. Lawrence Friends Church closed its doors in September of 2014, following a prolonged pattern of increasing dysfunction and decline, in order to allow freedom for Christ to birth a new movement of the Spirit in the local community.  After a sufficient season of “lying fallow,” allowing adequate time for careful assessment and prayerful preparation, a new expression of Christ-centered ministry, Friends of Lawrence, was born in July of 2015.

Friends of Lawrence is now entering into a new and exciting phase in its growth and development as a new monastic mission.  Over the past few years, the foundations of fruitful and effective ministry have been well established through the faithful and sacrificial service of our self-supporting missionaries, Jeremiah and Wendy Williams.  Close, personal friendships have been formed, deeply spiritual conversations have taken place, and the property on the corner of 16th and New Hampshire is slowly but surely being restored to its original beauty.

Jeremiah and Wendy are in immediate need of our prayerful support and practical assistance if this dream of rebuilding a vital center for missional ministry in Lawrence, Kansas, the original headquarters of EFC-MAYM, is to become a reality.  With the blessing of our yearly meeting elders, Carol and I are devoting two weekends a month from February through July to provide personal, on-site support for Friends of Lawrence.  Approximately $40,000 in one-time contributions from individuals and churches must be received by April 1 in order to complete the first phase of the renovation process. 

Would you be willing to pray about what type of personal contribution the Lord may be calling you and/or your local church toinvest in Friends of Lawrence?  Additional information, including an online giving portal, can be found on the Friends of Lawrence website.

– David O. Williams, General Superintendent

Dust in the Wind

Monday, February 12th, 2018

“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away,” I was once a high school student. In fact, I was actually sitting in a theatre in Wichita when these very words from the opening scene of the very first Star Wars movie scrolled across the big screen for the very first time back in the summer of 1977.

Yes, I am that old.

Back in the day, I was a big fan of what is now referred to as “classic rock.” One of my favorite bands was a group called Kansas, made up of six ordinary guys from nearby Topeka. I loved their unique brand of innovative and progressive rock music, but I was also deeply fascinated by their faintly spiritual song lyrics. I later discovered that the band’s founder and main songwriter, Kerry Livgren, had grown up in the church but had drifted away from the faith during adolescence and had begun seeking “truth” in earnest from every imaginable source.

Kansas did not have a ton of big hits, but in the summer of 1977 Kerry wrote a song called “Dust in the Wind” that he reluctantly agreed to include on the album, Point of Know Return. According to Kerry, the song was a very personal reflection of his own spiritual journey at the time. “The lyrics almost spewed out,” he later wrote, “a reflection of my inner despair and longing for something that would not pass away, something eternal.”

The prodigal son eventually found his way back home to the Father’s house in 1980, but it was “psalms” like this one that helped Kerry to translate the deepest cries of his heart into a personal prayer language. Thanks to its beautiful, yet haunting melody and thought-provoking lyrics, the song has remained surprisingly popular over the years.

What Kerry could not have known when he wrote “Dust in the Wind” in the summer of 1977 is that I was at a very similar place in life at the time as well. I, too, was wrestling with “inner despair” and “longing for something that would not pass away.” Thanks to the mysterious and relentless grace of God, Kerry’s honest and transparent songwriting was one of the key influences that also led me to return to the Father in, you guessed it, the summer of 1977.

As we enter together into this season of Lent, a special time set aside on the church calendar for each of us to return to the Father through a process of personal reflection, repentance and restoration, we do so with complete confidence that our good and beautiful God will be with us at each and every step along the journey, including those times when we may find ourselves in places of “inner despair and longing.” And on Ash Wednesday, in particular, when many will receive the sign of the cross on their foreheads as an outward symbol of an inner desire to “repent in dust and ashes,” may we all be reminded of this unshakable assurance:

“The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love … as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:8, 13-14).

– David O. Williams, General Superintendent

Marvelous Moments

Wednesday, January 10th, 2018

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).

– David O. Williams, General Superintendent

A Christmas Scandal

Tuesday, December 12th, 2017

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)

– David O. Williams, General Superintendent

Kingdomtide

Wednesday, November 8th, 2017

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!”

Happy Kingdomtide.

– David O. Williams, General Superintendent 

Soul Keepers

Friday, October 6th, 2017

*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)

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

The Discipline of the Empty Chair

Friday, September 8th, 2017

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!

– David O. Williams, General Superintendent

Remembering 9/11

Thursday, September 22nd, 2016
Most of you can probably remember where you were on the morning of September 11, 2001.  I’ll never forget when a fellow faculty member popped his head into my classroom at Barclay College and, with a dazed look on his face, reported that “a plane flew into the World Trade Center.”

As I think back over the events that transpired that day in New York, Washington, and rural Pennsylvania, I continue to do so with a deep sense of profound loss.  This is not only because 3,000 people were killed and another 6,000 were injured on September 11, 2001, as tragic as that may be, but because I continue to believe that something died in the American spirit that day and in the days that followed this extraordinary crisis commonly referred to as “9/11.”

If you Google the word “crisis” you will find the following definitions:

  • a time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger, e.g., “the current economic crisis”
  • a time when a difficult or important decision must be made, i.e., “a crisis point in history”
  • the turning point of a disease when an important change takes place, indicating either recovery or death

Looking back, I believe that all of these definitions are fully applicable to 9/11.  Without question, it was “a time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger.”  It was also “a time when a difficult or important decision must be made” regarding the appropriate response to terrorism, violence, hatred, religious extremism and other tangible expressions of blatant evil.  And last, but not least, it proved to be “the turning point of a disease when an important changes takes place, indicating either recovery or death.”

If we have learned anything about ourselves as Americans since 9/11, I believe it has become increasingly clear that the changes that have taken place in our country over the past 15 years provide unmistakable evidence that our “disease” is not, in fact, moving toward recovery.  Who in their right mind would argue that our American culture (not to mention our American church) is less self-centered, less materialistic, less violent or less racially, economically or politically divided than it was on September 11, 2001?

Something died that day.

In the midst of the intense pain surrounding 9/11, important decisions were being made all around the country about the kind of people we would be in the face of the devastating disease that presented itself to us, and was about to be made manifest in and through us during the days that followed 9/11.  Would we be the kind of people who respond to the manifestation of evil, in others and in ourselves, with genuine humility, repentance, forgiveness and an increasingly desperate dependence upon God, or would we respond with escalated levels of anger, hatred, pride, fear, self-justification and self-defense?  Would this disease lead towards recovery or death?

I think by now the answer is painfully clear.

Something died that day.

That’s the bad news.  But it is not the whole story.  The last chapter has not yet been written.  There is still time to change the final outcome, for ourselves and for those we love.

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).

Something may have died on 9/11, but if there is one thing that we learn from our risen Lord, it is that death never has the last word.

“I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die” (John 11:25).

– David O. Williams, General Superintendent

Be Fruitful and Multiply

Wednesday, August 24th, 2016

Dave Williams

Greetings, friends!  As we move into a new season of ministry together in the coming days here in EFC-MAYM, it is exciting to see what God is doing among the wider body of Evangelical Friends from across the country and around the world in regards to evangelism, disciple-making and church multiplication.  If our 2016 National Friends Church Multiplication Conference is any indication, the momentum appears to be building for a renewed initiative to “seek and save the lost” (Lk 19:10), especially those in our own neighborhoods, workplaces and local communities with whom we “live and move and have our being” (Ac 17:28).

In recent years, men and women among evangelically minded Friends Churches have begun to rediscover that there are many others who share their dream of making disciples and starting new churches. In May of 2013, the first National Friends Church Multiplication Conference was born out of a deep desire to gather together with those who share this dream. Leaders from the six yearly meetings of the Evangelical Friends Church-North America (Alaska, Eastern Region, Mid-America, Northwest, Rocky Mountain, Southwest) and three evangelical yearly meetings from Friends United Meeting (Indiana, Iowa, North Carolina) began monthly online gatherings to encourage one another and to plan the 2014 National Friends Multiplication Conference. Believing that their role is to act as catalysts in a movement to make disciples and start new churches, the Apostolic Leadership Group chose the collective identity of Friends Multiply. Friends Multiply is led by four focus catalysts and regional catalysts representing the nine yearly meetings involved.

Earlier this summer, this renewed emphasis on church multiplication among Evangelical Friends in North America led to the establishment of Multiplication Catalyst Ministries (MCM). A governing board for MCM was established in June, at which time Randy Littlefield was appointed to serve as the new organization’s very first director.  A native of southwest Kansas, Randy and his wife, Charlene served for many years as pastors and church planters among Evangelical Friends in Mid-America and Eastern Region.  Following several years of church planting experience with the Evangelical Free Church, Randy returned to EFC-MAYM in January of 2011 to serve as Director of Church Planting, and then Associate Superintendent of Multiplication Ministries.  During this time, Randy has gradually developed a broad network of contacts with a wide variety of church planters and missional church leaders from across the country.  Based on his personal background, extensive experience and extraordinary passion for church multiplication, Randy is uniquely qualified to serve in this particular leadership role with MCM.

On a practical level, Randy’s expanded responsibilities with MCM will require him to alter his role with EFC-MAYM.  He will continue to serve as our full-time Associate Superintendent of Multiplication Ministries through the end of the current calendar year, but beginning on January 1, 2017

, Randy will move to part-time (25%) Director of Multiplication Ministries with EFC-MAYM, and his financial support will be adjusted accordingly.  In his new role, Randy’s primary responsibility with Mid-America will be to serve as a “catalytic coach” for our regional multiplication leaders (Area Superintendents, Plant Advisory Teams, Missional Support Teams, etc.) as they seek to encourage, equip and empower each of our local church planters and missional leaders for their critical, front lines ministry of evangelism, disciple-making and church multiplication.

On a personal note, I just want to reaffirm my enthusiastic support for Friends Multiply, Multiplication Catalyst Ministries and the National Friends Church Multiplication Conference.  At the 2014 Multiplication Conference in Haviland, EFM missionary Bob Adhikary addressed the gathering via Skype from Nepal and issued a challenge to North American Friends that I found to be surprisingly prophetic:

“I would challenge Evangelical Friends in North America to consider planting one new church for every 100 of its church members.”

While there was nothing magical about the particular numbers, there was just something about this specific challenge that resonated deep in my spirit.  When I shared this with others from Mid-America who were in attendance at the conference, I found unanimous agreement. If this is truly a word from the Lord, then I believe we can anticipate that at least 30 new Evangelical Friends churches will be started here in Mid-America in the next decade or so.  In fact, since this challenge was first issued two years ago, we have already witnessed the birth of several new churches and/or missional communities among millenials (and others) in Lawrence, the homeless in Wichita, refugees in Forth Worth and Hispanics in Houston.  Additional conversations are currently taking place among Mid-America Friends regarding potential church planting partnerships in the Texas panhandle as well as metro Kansas City and Minneapolis.

As church multiplication pioneer Bob Logan reminded us at the 2016 Multiplication Conference, nowhere in Scripture are we commanded to “plant churches.”  It is Christ alone who has the power and authority to “build my church,” and He has promised that the “gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Mt 16:18).  But as Christ followers, we are clearly commanded to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:28) and to “make disciples” of all nations (Mt 28:19).  Not only is this in keeping with fidelity to the timeless, written word of Christ, but it is also in keeping with fidelity to the timely, living spirit of Christ, as illustrated in the good and beautiful dream that has been entrusted to us as a family of Friends here in Mid-America.

Having recently completed 33 years of vocational ministry on behalf of Christ and His church, I am increasingly convinced, and I believe the history of the Christian movement consistently demonstrates, that when we are faithful to do our part, Jesus is always faithful to do His.

Grace and peace,

– David O. Williams, General Superintendent