Saturday, November 16, 2013

O for a thousand tongues to sing...

When Jeff stepped up to preach this past Sunday at Immanuel Bible Church in Scottsdale, Arizona, he reminded us of one of the songs we'd just sung:

O for a thousand tongues to sing
My great Redeemer's praise.
The glories of my God and King.
The triumphs of his grace.

My gracious Master and my God,
Assist me to proclaim,
To spread through all the earth abroad
The honors of thy name.

Jesus! the name that charms our fears,
That bids our sorrows cease;.
'Tis music in the sinner's ears,
'Tis life, and health, and peace

As Jeff unpacked Mark 5:1-20, he told us how the demon-possessed man was uncontrollable and useless, an absolute slave to the forces of sin within him. But everything changed when the power of sin and Satan met the power of Christ. The demons immediately submitted and were sent plunging off the cliff in a herd of about 2000 swine. The man was free to think, move, speak -- and even clothe himself -- free of sinful demonic dominion.

He breaks the power of canceled sin,
He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean;
His blood availed for me.

He speaks, and listening to his voice,
New life the dead receive;
The mournful, broken hearts rejoice,
The humble poor believe.

The saving power of Jesus the Son of God broke the power of sin, set the prisoner of Satan free, and made the foulest of the foul spiritually clean. And what was Legion's response? He wanted to become a follower of Christ. Literally, he wanted to go with Jesus; he didn't want his Deliverer to leave him.

In Christ, your head, you then shall know,
Shall feel your sins forgiv'n;
Anticipate your heaven below,
And own that love is heav'n.

But Christ had a new mission for this once-monster now-man, telling him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” (Mark 5:19, ESV)

While the story of this man's redemption occurred long ago, similar stories are written across the world today as men and women are freed from sin-possession through the saving power of Christ. They are freed from the master of sin to become slaves to Christ, serving and sharing this good news with others in bondage to sin.

 The 20schemes team -- including our family -- is privileged to be a part of the redemptive work going on in the poorest areas of Scotland, bringing light to a dark place as we build relationships through the local church. Like the demon-possessed man of Mark 5, we long to be with our Savior, but have been left behind to tell of His power and mercy.

Thanks to Josh Matteson, pastor of Immanuel Bible Church, for allowing us to share our mission with the church family. We were delighted to meet his wife, Tracey, and their fun-loving boys, as well as many who attended Sunday. We're so thankful for yet another church watchfully seeking ways to reach the lost, near and far.

We're also thankful for Linda, Suzanne's stepmom, who allowed us to hang out at her house during our stay in Arizona!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Building a gospel partnership is child's play!

When we visited with Church on Mill a couple of Sundays ago, I had the unique opportunity to share with some of the elementary age children there. These kids were already somewhat familiar with the work 20schemes is doing in Scotland because of a partnership begun this past summer through Vacation Bible School.

I was able to not only introduce (via photos) these missions-minded kids to Scotland and Niddrie Community Church, but also to Natasha and the kids she's been working with. Natasha has already received some of the benefit of this partnership through funding for additional training, and the kids in both of these congregations have been exchanging penpal letters and small gifts over the past few months. Kids on both sides of the pond have been intrigued and excited by this project!

Natasha interns at Niddrie Community Church, working with youth and children in a variety of ways. She loves the work, especially with the five-to eleven-year-olds. Teenagers are harder to reach, so Natasha hopes that seeds planted and relationships built during these earlier years will help these kids stay connected to the church when they become teens.

Natasha's biggest challenge -- just learning to love the kids, even when they're not acting especially lovable -- also provides one of her greatest rewards. "I see myself in them sometimes, and it just makes me even more grateful God has decided to use me to minister to them, I can relate to them," she says. When asked how she has grown spiritually through working with the kids, she responded with this:

I'm learning so much about how God is using me in Niddrie, and how he is turning me into the person he wants me to be! It's hard to be a Christian on a scheme, especially if you are from a scheme, friends and family will turn their backs on you -- the people you least expect to, will.  Life does get difficult, but in that I learned to trust God and not myself; he will provide and take care of me and he has.

But the benefit of all that is, people NOTICE, they notice you're not the same person you had been, they notice you making better decisions, they notice a change in your behaviour and attitude, and they have to and will ask
how? And there's a great excuse to glorify God and tell them it isn't through me and my works but God and his grace, and Jesus Christ.

Now all of this may not seem terribly remarkable to you unless you realize that Natasha is a relatively new believer who demonstrated a heart to reach out to those around her, especially children and young adults. Until she was saved, she'd never read the Bible or been to church, other than for a handful of christenings, funerals, and the like. Let me further introduce you to Natasha by sharing her video testimony with you:

Natasha's testimony

The local church played a vital role in sharing the gospel with Natasha. It continues to play a vital role in her discipleship, as well as in equipping her to share the gospel and serve in the church. She's among 20schemes' first indigenous apprentices, homegrown converts eager to invest in gospel work through the local church.

That's our mission in a nutshell: reaching the unsaved in the schemes of Scotland by planting local gospel churches. But we can't do it without you. Are you willing to partner with us?

Friday, November 1, 2013

And now in MY backyard

Last post, I told you how Jeff recently preached right in his own backyard. This past Sunday, he preached practically in my old backyard, right across the street from Arizona State University, where I spent many hours of research for high school debate, as well as my first year of college.

 If you've been with us long, you might remember that The Church on Mill partnered with us this summer through their Vacation Bible School. The children learned a bit about the ministry of 20schemes, collected money to assist one of our indigenous interns with additional training, and started penpal relationships with some of the children that Niddrie Community Church is working with.

 Then, last Sunday, we were able to share in person with Church on Mill in Tempe, Arizona. During the Sunday school hour, we tried something new. Jeff shared with the adults, as he's done at other places. But since the children had already begun a partnership with the work of 20schemes, I was able to share a bit with them, too.

It was great to meet the children's director, Andrea, in person; we had just Skyped and emailed up to this point. And it was wonderful to see the deliberate work that the teachers in the children's department are doing, both in teaching the Word and in focusing on missions.

During our time with Church on Mill and pastor Chuck Newkirk, we came to understand that this love of the Word and missions is tightly woven into the fabric of the church. In a college town, churches tend to be more diverse and energetic, but sometimes rely on entertainment and edginess to bring in bodies. We were encouraged to see this healthy church body focused on equipping the saints and sharing the gospel, all while emphasizing the importance of the local church.

In many ways, it reminded me of the work that 20schemes is doing in planting gospel churches for Scotland's poorest. Whether in a college town in Arizona or the schemes of Scotland, there is a need for healthy gospel churches faithfully investing in building relationships in the community while depending on God to bring about a changed heart in individuals -- which in turn leads to social change. Both locations require a commitment over time and a willingness to do a work that can be messy.

Drawing by Sarah DeJesus
Jeff's sermon for Sunday was from the first part of Mark 5, a passage that vividly illustrates Christ's saving power. It's an unusual story, an amazing story, and it's one we love to share because, in many ways, the story of this demon-possessed cave-dwelling monster who is freed by Christ parallels the testimonies of so many in the schemes of Scotland. One young lady in the congregation captured the desperation of this man in the picture she later shared with us (left).

Then Paul Cooling, a member of Niddrie Community Church in Scotland, shared (via video) how he had been sin-possessed and useless, sleeping in a graveyard, until Jesus intervened in his life. Through the ministry of the local church, he learned of this same saving power and is now living a joyful and productive life, investing in others and striving to serve God in all he does.

This is the heartbeat of 20schemes. But we can't do it without partners, people like you to financially and prayerfully support the work. Will you help?

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Preaching in his own backyard

It's not often that a preacher has the opportunity to preach in what is practically his own backyard, but Jeff did just that this past Sunday.

Through a referral from local pastor Rodney Queen, Jeff met with Hershel Sizemore, pastor of Lighthouse Baptist Church, earlier this summer. That meeting led to an invitation for Jeff to preach and share gospel partnership opportunities at Lighthouse Baptist last weekend.

And where is Lighthouse Baptist Church located? It sits just outside the old pecan orchard that was part of the family farm that Jeff grew up calling home. He was an Air Force brat, living around the country and even in Germany as a child, but the 125-acre farm owned by his grandparents in South Bibb County always provided a sense of home. For years, Jeff hunted that land, worked that land, and even helped to build many of the fences that still stand there.

Maybe that's why he felt so at home with the folks at Lighthouse Baptist. Or maybe it's because they're such friendly folks. Or perhaps Hershel's enthusiasm about our ministry was just contagious. Whatever the reason, we're grateful for the opportunity to worship, to share, and to partner with this church family.

We need more churches and individuals to join us as gospel partners. Can you help?

Monday, October 7, 2013

Sharing with Harbor City Baptist Church

A couple of weekends ago, our family had the privilege of traveling down to Melbourne, Florida, to share Scotland's need for the gospel with Harbor City Baptist Church. Many times, we're limited to just meeting folks in the formal church setting, but this trip afforded us some great informal fellowship times, as well.

Our host family, the Austofs, welcomed us with a wonderful meal on Friday night, and we enjoyed our time with them all weekend. They just encouraged us to treat their home as our home, and we felt like family.

 Before our trip, several pastor friends had encouraged us to try to meet Myrue Spivey while we were in Melbourne. Myrue pastors Grace Bible Sanctuary in nearby Palm Bay. We had breakfast with Myrue on Saturday and came away so encouraged in the Lord. In fact, if you google the word encourage, Myrue's picture should come up in your search results. If it doesn't, well, the folks at Google just might not be as smart as everyone thinks they are!

We spent Saturday evening with the family of Harbor City's pastor, Jeff Mitchell. Jeff's wife, Shelley, prepared a wonderful meal for us and, somehow, our unsocialized homeschool children (two of ours, eight of theirs) managed to have a wonderful time together (as did the adults)!

Sunday was a wonderful day of worship at Harbor City. Jeff was able to preach on the transforming power of the gospel in the morning worship service. We enjoyed some great fellowship with Ron and Roxanne Cunningham, along with Wayne Smith and his daughter, Melanie.

Then, on Sunday evening, Jeff spoke more directly about the spiritual darkness in Scotland, as well as the two gospel opportunities in which our family is currently involved. We use visual images to communicate these realities and, as always, the folks marveled at the beauty of Scotland and were shocked to learn how far the country has drifted from its strong Christian heritage. (Speaking of Christian heritage, check out the photo of the 1599 Geneva Bible, below.)

On Monday, the Lord graciously provided beautiful weather for a family beach day, including some great seafood.

Several people committed to partner with us this weekend in our gospel work. Won't you become a partner, too?

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Sharing with Christian Fellowship Baptist Church

"Wow. I never knew it was so spiritually dark there."

I think that was the most common response we received when we shared our mission opportunity with Christian Fellowship Baptist Church in Zebulon, Georgia, this past Wednesday night.

Honestly, it's been our own continued response as we learn more about Scotland's spiritual state. Late last year, we began to become aware of the lack of gospel churches in the most deprived areas of Scotland, the schemes. But it's only been recently that we've learned more about the darkness that is present even in the Highlands, in the outer reaches of the country.

And it's more than just a lack of the gospel. Over the last few generations, faithful churches have somehow faded away. You've heard that nature abhors a vacuum; well, Satan loves a vacuum. He loves to stealthily slip in and fill the void with lies.

And whether the lies lead to something called spiritualism, atheism, or pantheism, the result is always the same: idolatry. And the antidote is the gospel.

It was a joy to share the opportunities and challenges of partnership in our developing gospel work with this body of believers. The church family lived up to their name -- they reflected Christian fellowship in every interaction. Thanks to Steve and Odessa, and also Al and Cora, for inviting us to come. (Friends of our family, Doug and Yvonne, connected us with CFBC, but were unable to attend due to illness. We continue to pray for Yvonne.)

And can I just say that these folks know how to put out a South-in-your-mouth Wednesday night supper spread?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Braveheart: God's Way

We recently returned from visiting Scotland, the land of William Wallace (Braveheart) fame, and particularly that of his comrade in arms, Andrew Murray. While Wallace campaigned in and around the central belt of Scotland, Murray fought and won many battles in the Highlands. 

Wallace and Murray combined arms and fought the English in a major battle which Wallace and Murray won against great odds. Unfortunately, Murray was mortally wounded and died two months later. Wallace went on to a knighthood, great fame, and martyrdom.

I haven't seen Braveheart, yet. But I got to thinking about what it means to stand for something that you'd be willing to die for, check that, something you'd be willing to live for. 

In my first opportunity to offer some biblical encouragement to the folks of Hopeman Baptist Church , I spoke about God's gift of making Christians from all races and walks of life a spiritual family. 

1 Timothy 3:15 encourages Christians with the fact of our kinship as members of God's household; we are the Church of the living God. What a special gift we share together as adopted sons and daughters; though we may differ in skin color, language, culture and customs, we are family through faith in Christ. 

As a family then, we should pray for God to fill us with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we must strive for unity in the bond of peace for the sake of Christ and His commission to us: go and make disciples, teaching and baptizing to the greater glory of God.

Psalm 86:11 expresses the essence of a prayer of David that I encouraged my brothers and sisters to take to their hearts and offer to God on behalf of knowing His will, living in that will, and being united in our hearts to His greater glory. A prayer not so much for brave hearts, but for united hearts which offer the highest honor to God through holy living.

David humbly prays, "Teach me your way, O Lord."  We need to ask to be taught God's way; it is not something we know intuitively. "...That I may walk in your truth" -- that we may live our life by the truth of God's Word, i.e., that we will be obedient to Scripture. "...Unite my heart to fear your name." Our hearts are prone to wander, prone to distraction and discouragement. We need to pray that the Lord, by His truth and according to His grace, will cause our hearts to be pointedly focused on living a reverent, holy life. 

Unity comes through truth. The absence of truth fosters discord and every evil thing. I pray that my brothers and sisters at Hopeman Baptist will know the joys of knowing God, being filled to full measure with the knowledge of His Word, live in obedience to God's Word, and will have an unflinching heart of loyalty to the Lord out of reverence for Christ. 

Bravehearts? Maybe. But even better - hearts united in a growing awe of the Lord, and in a joyful, undistracted pursuit of what pleases Him.  

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Our continuing adventure in Scotland

We've had quite a busy time here in the Highlands -- it's hard to believe that we've already been here a week!

A sweet group of believers met together on Sunday for worship. Jeff preached from Mark 5 both morning and evening, and the most common response we heard was, "I've never heard anything like that before!" Thankfully, it was meant in a positive sense; it seemed that both exposition and Jeff's style were welcomed. Later in the week, we came across a sign that seemed to sum up the current general feeling about faith in the UK -- you'll see it pictured below. A more positive sign was discovered at the church -- they feel a kinship with Texas because some in the church were saved through the evangelistic efforts of a mission team from Dallas in years past. Seeing the Texas-shaped clock on the wall made me happy! Tonight we'll join with the church family again for prayer and a Bible study led by Jeff.

On Monday, we were able to have some time away as a family. We ventured into Elgin (Jeff drove brilliantly) to visit an authentic fish and chips shop owned by a freind of our hosts. There was a Starbucks nearby, but we opted to go a bit more local and sat for a bit in Costa Coffee. AnnaKate declared it the best coffee she'd ever had (then qualified that with, "except for Daddy's"). And about the sandwich below... it contains Coronation Chicken, which is a part of British history as the recipe was developed for Queen Elizabeth's coronation in 1953.

One of the highlights of our visit has been getting to know our hosts, John and Rosemary. And we were glad to meet their children over the weekend, as well (their daughter, Lynsey, is shown below). And we must say that Bella, their dalmation, was a sweet surprise as we left our own Bella at home!

Our visit so far has been a mix of past, present, and a hope for the future. We're enjoying the history that surrounds us at every step (see Jared below on top of a World War II bunker), as well as the spiritual heritage that is Scotland's. As we get to know the church family here, we clearly see the present need for revival in this village and all of Scotland. In all of that, we are encouraged by the hope that has been expressed to us. A hope for the children of the village to hear of the Lord, for the people of the here to be drawn by the Lord, for the church family to be revived by the Lord. This is our prayer, and if the Lord chooses to use us to this end, it will be a privilege.