Archive for November, 2005

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From Legalism To Grace

November 30, 2005

I received an email this past week, via my brother Mark, from a young man that grew up in the same small rural congregation in Robertson County Tennessee that I did. In the email Ben described his journey out of legalism to an understanding of the grace of God. As I read Ben’s words tears came to my eyes as I remembered my own journey over thirty years ago. Ben described his journey in the following words. “What changed? Everything. There was no epiphany, no one moment of fresh insight, no real attempt on my part to question the self-righteous legalism I’d grown comfortable with . . . there was just grace, and more grace, and still more grace from a God who wouldn’t give up on one of His most zealously vicious children.”

How those words tugged at my heart and I was reminded of my own journey from legalism to grace. I was blessed to begin my preaching career away for the Bible Belt where I had grown up. My first full time work was in a small rural Pennsylvania church. Not long after moving there I met two preachers of my tribe that were in the area. As we would share our convictions on various topics it soon became evident that these guys had a different perspective on a number of issues. They began to challenge my “works oriented” approach to scripture and salvation. Thank God I was green and bendable, and my open mind began to drink deeply of the riches of His mercy and grace.

Being away from my tradition roots, I did not experience the venom of others as Ben did. “The elders from the most influential church in that region sent letters to all the congregations for miles around insisting that I was unworthy of fellowship. My phone rang off the hook for weeks as I was contacted by elders and ministers who wanted to do nothing more than express their disappointment at my great fall, and many informed me that I’d never be welcome in their church houses again.”

What is really ironic is that Ben and I, though separated by a number of years in time, were apart of a group that preached so strongly against denominationalism and yet was its greatest practitioner. We had become the express image of what we despised and could not see it. Like those who lashed out at Stephen, they could not see their own departure from God’s will for their lives.

Ben is doing a great work today.. He is preaching a grace filled gospel to military personnel, and experiencing the freedom that only comes through complete trust in Jesus. Ben’s has a number of great lessons at his site, Spiritual Reformation. Check it out.

There is a fresh wind blowing among the members of my tribe today. Churches across the country have awakened and are no longer willing to be swayed by the pressure of a few. Yes, the legalism still exist in many congregations, and publication, but they no longer hold sway. Grace will lift you up, become the wind beneath your wings and enable you to fly with Eagles. The journey is sometimes painful, but Ben would tell you, it is worth it. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.

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Value Of Short Term Mission Trips

November 29, 2005

Some question the value of “short term” mission projects. I would be the first to admit the limitations of being in an area for only a matter of a few weeks. I would also say that it is not the ideal way to do missions. Having done both, I would always rather encourage long term as opposed to short term. But at the same time I would encourage short term missions.

Back in 1970 I traveled to Ghana West Africa for a period of six weeks. At that time the government of Ghana was very pro American and respected our reputation as a “Christian Nation”. Charles Scott had received an invitation for ministers to come to Ghana and teach Bible in the Secondary School system in Ghana. We would be allowed to teach daily classes in Bible to the entire student body. What a golden opportunity!

Some questioned the value of these trips based upon the age of the students, mostly teenagers, and that the teaching would be for such a short time period. While there may have been some validity to their concerns, there were not enough missionaries to meet the need, so short term campaigns were launched.

In 1970 I was assigned to teach in a secondary school in the city of Winneba, near Tema Ghana. I was their for a week, and taught classes daily. There were two students that showed a lot of interested, ask lots of questions and also made themselves available for personal study time with me. At the end of the week these two students obeyed the Gospel and began the church in Winneba.

Now flash forward thirty-six years. What happened to the two students? Well one worshipped for a period time in Accra, Ghana and then made his way to the USA and has not been heard of since. Not sounding too good for short term missions.

I received a letter from the other student a few weeks back. Let me bring you up to date. George Amusai began teaching others in Winneba and a church was established with the help of the Tema congregation, a brand new year old church itself. George went to medical school and became a doctor. He is now 54 years of age, married with three children. They are all Christians. George is a practicing physician and an Elder for the church in Tema. He tells me that the church in Winneba is now large and has established a number of other congregations in the area.

I am told that the churches of Christ are the fastest growing group in Ghana. There are many other factors that contribute to this, not the least of which is a preacher training school in Kumasi. But the work in Ghana was jump started by a series of yearly short term mission efforts just like the one I have described.

(Picture one from left to right. Grady Partin, Godfrey, George and myself) (Picture two: John Boa, our translator for street preaching, prepares to baptize George.)

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Leftovers

November 25, 2005

I don’t know about you, but I love the days after Thanksgiving as much as the day itself, with reference to the food that is. We have so much to be thankful for in our family. Both our children and all five grand children were here yesterday. Three of the grand children even stayed the night so that their mom and dad could hit the stores early on black Friday.

Today we are feasting on leftovers. Nothing like a cold turkey sandwich with salad dressing to make my day. Yes, I am thankful for leftovers.

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ENCOURAGING UPDATE FROM LONG BEACH, MS

November 23, 2005

WOW! WOW! WOW! WOW! WOW!

It is unbelievable the way brothers and sisters in Christ keep coming from everywhere to help us! Last week we had 4 groups of workers.

The groups were from:
· Auburn Church of Christ, Auburn, AL
· Central Church of Christ, Huntsville, AL
· Germantown Church of Christ, Germantown, TN
· Leonard Street Church of Christ, Pensacola, FL

This week we have been blessed with groups from:

· Abilene Church of Christ, Statesville, NC
· Strickland Church of Christ, Glen, MS

We have groups scheduled as far in advance as late March.

Last Sunday night we had a great experience when we were able to share worship and a meal with the Division Street Church of Christ at our Long Beach building. They are still worshiping in a tent behind their building and are not able to have services at night. It was such a great experience to be together.

With Thanksgiving coming this Thursday we were glad to hear that there were 50 frozen turkeys along with “fixins” coming on Monday for us to use and share with others. We will be sharing these with the Division Street Church. They are serving Thanksgiving Dinner to anyone that will come their way on Thanksgiving Day. These are being delivered here by the Picayune Church of Christ in Picayune, Louisiana.

We also have 250+ Christmas boxes coming for children to be used with our kids and others in need. These are coming from the Memorial Road Church of Christ in Edmond Oklahoma

WE THANK GOD FOR YOU!

VISITORS FROM TAMPA, FLORIDA TODAY

We had friends from Tampa, Florida – Jim and Tracy Lazzarino – come by Friday. Jim and another brother – Andy McCampbell – made a quick trip here right after Hurricane Katrina hit when we were in dire need of gasoline. At that time they brought a trailer with two 55 gallon drums of gas and supplies, left the trailer for us to use and turned around and drove back to Tampa. Jim and Tracy came today to pick up the trailer and we took the time to give them a tour of life south of the tracks. “I’ve never seen anything like this.” It looks like someone dropped a bomb down here.” These are what people usually say when they see it for the first time and today was no exception. The destruction is overwhelming. Business is gone, people’s homes are gone and their lives have been turned upside down.

Keep us in your prayers!
By HIS Grace!
Mark Hodges

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TOYS FOR TOTS

November 22, 2005

The church where we worship is working with the Marine’s Toys for Tots program in our postal zip code area. The church and the Marines will provide toys for over 500 little ones. This year we want to do more than just give toys away, we want to offer to meet spiritual needs. A small group will work with the families after they have done their shopping. We want to make friends, pray with them and determine if we can help them develope a relationship with Jesus.

I am excited about this opportunity.

“Father we want to brighten the lives of those who come, not only by making the children smile, but by sharing the “light of the world” with them, and their parents. May we let our light shine Father, that they might see You.”

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Son of slain missionary believes new movie offers outreach possibilities

November 19, 2005

by Steve Saint

I visited the mysterious, fabled city of Timbuktu years ago. It was part of a spiritually challenging adventure-filled visit to West Africa in the middle of a terrible famine that decimated people groups inhabiting the Sub-Saharan grasslands in that part of the world.
In Timbuktu, I learned the fear of being totally separated from other people who look, think, and believe as I do. But I also discovered how unfathomably capable God is of working all things together for good for those who let him write their story.

The story God has been writing with my life started with an excruciatingly painful chapter he began when I was just a young boy living contently on the edge of the Amazon jungles of Ecuador in South America. That is about as far as you can get from Timbuktu geographically, culturally, and spiritually.

The first five years of my life were happy and contented ones. Then, all of that was shattered one day when my mother called me into her bedroom to tell me that my dad and hero was never coming home to live with us again.

In an attempt to make contact with an unreached and violent tribe of people who had never had friendly contact with the rest of the world, Dad and four of his close missionary friends had been violently speared and hacked to death. In a final act of scorn, their bodies had been thrown into the river beside the sandbar where Dad had landed his little yellow plane. It had also been torn to shreds.

It felt like my life was over. All my dreams centered around Dad. He was going to teach me to swim. Then, he was going to teach me to help him fix the little bush plane he flew into the jungles each day, transporting supplies and missionaries and bringing back sick Indians with their exotic tribal ways for medical attention at the tiny mission clinic just up the road from our rustic but functional house. And finally, he was going to teach me to fly like he did. All I wanted in life was to grow up to be just like Dad.

I can still remember the cold, dark, empty feeling of aloneness I felt when I was told that my dad had been killed. That was the only common bond between that horrible revelation I experienced as a little boy and my experience in Timbuktu. I again felt that terrible aloneness.
I found out that the jump seat on a United Nations relief flight that had taken me to Timbuktu was going to be taken by a UNICEF doctor on the way back to the capital city. I did not have to be told of the danger I was in. I was a fair-skinned ‘Toubabu’ in a world of dark-skinned Berbers, and a follower of Christ in a militantly Muslim city like Timbuktu in the middle of a draught-induced famine. Temperatures in Timbuktu easily reached to 120 degrees during the day. I could feel myself dehydrate standing in the shade; and there was no scheduled air or ground transportation to get me back to the world where I belonged.

I was alone and scared again, just like I had been as a little boy. In desperation, I searched for the tiny Christian church I had heard existed against all odds in this famous old Muslim stronghold.

To my great relief, with the help of a group of ragged street urchins I found Nouh Ag Infa Yatara. Beneath the flowing robes and behind the only smiling face I had seen in this mysterious desert city, I found a brother I had never known. We were opposites in the color of our skin, dress, culture, and language. But I knew immediately that we were related by blood – the blood of Christ.

Unable to communicate but feeling a mystical bond, Nouh (Noah in English) took me in search of a translator. The story he told me was incredible. Nouh became the first Bela (a slave tribe) follower of Christ in Timbuktu. When his mother found out he had become an ‘infidel’ she beat him. He was thrown out of Koranic school. Then his mother threw him out of his home in order to maintain her standing as one of two or three wives of a Muslim husband. Finally, when the teenaged Nouh would not recant his apostate faith, his own mother tried to poison him.
Through all the persecution, alone against his world, young Nouh determined to live for Christ in the Muslim city of Timbuktu.

I thought to myself, “My roots lie in a country where coming to faith in Christ is applauded and confirmation in the faith is celebrated with gifts and an open house.” I was incredulous that Nouh would have chosen to risk everything for Christ at such a young age. I asked for an explanation.

As the interpreter relayed what he was saying, Nouh told me that the hope he found in a new faith that based his claim to paradise on what God had done for him and not what he could do for God, and gave him the fortitude to hold on to faith through Christ – alone. Then he went on to explain that he had also been given a little book in French about five Christians who had risked their lives to take their faith to another group of violent people in a fearful part of the world covered in dense jungles.

Gates of Splendor

Your church can get a free Gates of Splendor screening kit at http://www.bearingfruit.com/. The kit includes a special 45-minute abridged copy of the documentary for use in any church, ministry, or college

He said, “When I read of five young men from North America who were willing to die for their faith in the Amazon jungles so far from home, I decided I could live for my faith at home.” Our interpreter happened to be from North America. He said, “I know the story Nouh is talking about. In fact, one of those missionaries had your same last name.” “Yes,” I told him. “I know that story. My dad was one of those five young men.”

Who could have imagined that the painful chapter that shredded my young heart in South America would be used by God to bring peace to another boy in Timbuktu.

Years later, I was traveling in the United States with one of the Waodani warriors who killed my dad, Jim Elliot, Ed McCully, Pete Fleming and Roger Youderian. I heard that Nouh and his wife and three boys were also in the United States. It would be impossible to describe the emotion that I felt introducing my brother in Christ from Timbuktu to the man who killed my very own father.

The incredible story God began writing when I was 5 will be 50 years old in January. The story has now been made into a docu-drama entitled Beyond the Gates of Splendor, which is available for churches to show to their congregations.
End of the Spear

If you want more information on the Jan. 20 release of End of the Spear, click here to check out their Web site. The movie has been awarded the “Best Film” at the Heartland Film Festival. Previous winners of this award include Remember the Titans and The Rookie.

On Jan. 20, 2006, the 50th anniversary of the martyrdom of the five missionaries in Ecuador; this same story, will be released as a major motion picture, End of The Spear. For the first time in decades, modern followers of God and his son the Christ will be portrayed in a positive light to a broad audience in movie theaters.

It is incredible to me that God would again take what man meant for evil and use it for good with a new generation audience. And perhaps the most exciting prospect is that if audiences fill theatres for End of the Spear like we did for The Passion of the Christ, especially on Jan. 20 – opening weekend – it is likely that we will begin to see a steadily growing string of other major motion pictures that will crack open this long closed medium to people of faith and the Gospel message.

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END OF THE SPEAR

November 18, 2005

I went to a screening of “End of the Spear” last night. It was powerful! I have been familiar with this story of five missionaries killed back in 1956 by a savage tribe since the early 70’s. The commitment and devotion of these men and their families challenged my faith back then to look deeper into my relationship with Jesus. I believe this movie will have the same effect on all who see it.

Jim Elliot, one of the five, coined the phrase, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” He along with his co-workers did in fact give what they could not keep to gain what they could not lose.

The movie will be released nationally on January 20th. of 2006, which is the 50th. Anniversary of the death of these men. It is rate PG-13, and while the depiction of spearing is through out the movie, it is done in a tasteful way, but still not appropriate for very young children.

You will be moved by the power of the Gospel presented in the simplest of terms, and how it can change even the most harden life. You will be moved by the children of those who died and their present day interaction with the actual people who killed their fathers.

This group of people was on the brink of self annihilation. A 60% murder rate existed before the gospel came to these people. In a short period of time it dropped to 5%, and eventually to no killings at all.

“Bearing Fruit Communications” produced this movie. They state their mission as, “To make known the relevance of God’s Word for today’s world.” Mission accomplished! While there have been many changes in society in the last 50 years, I believe that this movie will speak even to a post-modern world.

For online ministry tools related to the film, go to www.daretomakecontact.com