Remembering the Poor

In James 2:14-26 we find the well known discussion of the relationship between faith and works. James gives us an example of how true and living faith ought to (and in fact does) result in good works:

“If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (Jam. 2:15-17).

It is interesting that the example he gives has to do with the needy, particularly those who struggle with obtaining sufficient food and clothing. One of the horrible consequences of the COVID-19 crisis has been that many around the world who were on the edge of being able to sustain their families with enough food have been pushed over the precipice into hunger and destitution. I have heard reports of people all over the world going without food. Families in Peru and Columbia have taken to placing a flag in front of their dwellings to signal the government and others that they have run out of provisions. Missionaries in Africa report the widespread sudden lack of resources. The stories could be multiplied on every continent.

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Help Victims of COVID-19 in Belize

Savannah in northern Belize

MTW in Belize will be partnering with the Presbyterian Church in Belize to find ways to help people who have been affected by the COVID-19 crisis – especially those in our churches here. Many have lost their jobs or have had reduced incomes. There are many families that struggle to put food on the table under normal circumstances and this has been a severe setback. People are already low on food and basic needs and things are likely to get worse as the disease spreads. There are also many sick and elderly. The churches haven’t been able to meet so tithes and offerings have come to a halt.

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Comfort For God’s People

In times of difficulty and suffering Christians have the advantage of being able to go to God’s Word for comfort. The Bible is a treasure trove of truth, light, and blessed comfort for God’s people. Isn’t God incredibly gracious and loving to have provided such riches in His Word?

It is important to learn and meditate on the truths, warnings, promises and exhortations in God’s Word before challenging times arrive. To the degree that we have done that we will be better prepared to meet the “difficult providences” that God brings into our lives. As we remember and meditate on those things during difficulties and trials God will give us direction, wisdom, and comfort – especially by the power of the Holy Spirit working by and with the Word of God in our lives.

But whether remembering truths already contemplated or learning them for the first time, we will be better prepared to go through dark times. With that in mind I would like to list a couple of the many truths that we find in Scripture. In a future post I hope to list a couple more.

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Praying for Belize

We leave to start our new life and ministry in Belize in just 5 days. How do we feel? Excited, nervous, hopeful, scared. Mostly, we just can’t wait to get going! We have been busy packing and preparing. January was full with Ray going to a training on church revitalization and all of us going to an MTW ReConnect conference, as well as presenting our ministry and preaching and of course, packing!

In all of this preparation, the most important part is prayer. There is a spiritual battle raging in this world, for the hearts and minds of the 7.7 billion souls on this planet many of whom do not know the Lord Jesus Christ. Who are on the front lines? Not primarily the missionaries who are spreading the good news about Jesus, but those who are on their knees in prayer!

We can tell you from experience that we will be feeling this spiritual battle. Please pray for our protection as we enter into our new ministry. Also we would like to encourage you to pray daily for Belize. Our team has a prayer calendar for the month of February that contains one short prayer request for the ministry of MTW in Belize for each day. It is a great way to help you pray specifically and regularly for the ministry. It is a great way to be on the front lines of extending God’s kingdom in the nation of Belize. Would you be willing to print it out and pray through it each day?

teammates

John and Karen Stodghill

Teams are important. As the old expression goes: “No man is an island.” In many arenas of life, we find that working with others is not only a necessity but is part of who we are as social beings and is healthy not only for us as individuals, but also for the greater promotion of the work that we set out to do together. From organizing social events to working together in business to ruling and governing nations – teamwork is important.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him– a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” – Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

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MTW Global disaster response: Bahamas

Hurricane Dorian wreaked havoc on the Bahamas, bringing death, destruction, and costly losses in its wake. There is a great need for continued prayer for those affected. May God grant comfort to those who have lost much and may they turn to Christ as the only hope we have in life and in death.

“If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.”

James 2:8

We give thanks to the Lord that MTW will be sending an assessment team there to determine how MTW’s Global Disaster Response can help in the days, months, and possibly years to come. The goal of this work of MTW is not only to aid in physical and emotional help for people who have recently gone through a disaster – an important and critical need – but also that God may open doors for the local churches to offer the hope of the Good News of Jesus Christ to all who will listen. God has a way of getting our attention after much suffering and maybe this is an opportunity for people to grapple with eternal life and death issues.

We will all appear before God someday to give account for what we did while here on earth (2 Cor. 5:10). None of us have fulfilled God’s perfect and holy law and so we have all sinned (Rom. 3:23). Thankfully Jesus fulfilled all the righteous requirements of God’s law on behalf of all who are united to Him by faith! Furthermore, He also took the just penalty due to them because of their sin and rebellion by dying an accursed death on the cross as a substitute – thus satisfying God’s justice.

Because God is just and cannot let the guilty go unpunished (Ex. 34:7; Ps. 1:5-6), He sent His Only Son Jesus to die the death of a sinner – even though Jesus didn’t deserve it (Jn. 3:16; Heb. 4:15). Jesus went willingly to the cross so that all who look to Him in faith may have eternal life and be reconciled to the Father (Col. 1:20-22; Jn. 10:17-18).

“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Acts 17:30-31

Missions house

A house in Missouri

The life of a missionary can often be somewhat nomadic. First, there is the initial move out of one’s home country to the place where the missionary will minister. Typically, missionaries have gone for a term at a time, punctuated by furloughs – also known as “home ministry assignment or HMA”. This can be a lot of moving around! Additionally it is not uncommon for God to move missionaries from one ministry assignment to another – whether in the same nation or in a completely different nation or even language group!

One question people might have is: Where do missionaries live while on home assignment? This is a good question because traditionally the missionary home assignment or furlough can be anywhere from weeks to a whole year! Most missionaries are by no means idle during their home assignment. They are expected to visit their financial supporters and sponsoring churches to give updates on the work on the field, giving glory to our Triune God for bringing the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to the nations!

Thankfully God provides for His servants, but it is not always easy for the missionary. Sometimes a missionary owns a home back in his or her passport country. But most often not. Some have generous relatives who may offer a place to stay. Others have financial supporters who share their home or open their vacation home for a season. A few churches have what is akin to the traditional parsonage or manse: the missionary house.

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Moms In Prayer

Many of us know the powerful story of Monica, a Godly woman from the third century who was grieved that her son was living a wild life of rebellion against God and part of religious sect. She prayed day and night for her son, Augustine. Only after many years were her prayers answered, and her son not only converted to Christianity, but indeed became one of the most influential fathers of the Christian church.

Mothers like Monica inspire modern mothers, as we witness the rise of secularism and the struggles of life in this evil world, and are often brought to our knees as well for the souls of our children. Christian mothers all around the world share the same hopes and fears, and indeed, we seek the face of our Savior to protect our little ones. It can be challenging, however, to remain consistent, motivated and disciplined, or even at times it can be a challenge to know what to pray!

Meeting together in a cafe for prayer

As such, one of the highlights for me of our trip to Uruguay in July was the opportunity to pray with a small group of women for our children and their schools. These women are a part of the Uruguay chapter of the organization Moms In Prayer, an interdenominational ministry based in San Diego California, whose mission is to impact children and schools worldwide by gathering mothers to pray.

The national director of Uruguay, Lourdes, organized this prayer group with leaders of some local groups in Montevideo. We were inspired by some teaching on leading prayer, and then spent time ourselves praying together. These women are burdened with many of the same things that burden mothers in the US–children who have walked away from the faith, anti-biblical teachings on sexuality being promoted in schools and the rise of secularism. The difference in Uruguay is that the church is much smaller and Christian children often grow up feeling isolated in their faith. Lourdes is a teacher in a public high school and mentioned that she is the only Christian teacher in her school. Moms In Prayer chapters in the US are often based around a school–Christian mothers in the school band together to pray for their children and the school. In Uruguay, it would be hard indeed to find a group of Christian mothers to pray together in a school. For this reason, most Moms In Prayer groups in Uruguay are based in the church, rather than the school.

Saying goodbye before we went our separate ways to each catch our bus home!

It was so encouraging for me to pray with this tiny group of mothers because I believe the only hope for the future of the church in Uruguay will come through prayer. One of the women mentioned to me that she and a friend have been fasting and praying for Uruguay. This brings me real hope and joy. Prayer is what is needed to prepare the soil for a Gospel harvest. Please pray with me that the Moms In Prayer ministry would grow and expand, that many mothers would delight to meet weekly to pray for their children and schools, both in Uruguay and all over the world.

Every Tongue, tribe and nation, Every Sunday

Were you in church last Sunday? We all face the temptation to take Sunday worship for granted. It can feel at times like a tradition, even something we do without giving it much thought. Many Christians will admit that they haven’t made it to church in a while. Others will acknowledge that they don’t currently have a church. Maybe it is a sunny Sunday morning and the beach is calling, or a rainy day and it is hard to get moving. Perhaps the kids have a sports event. Whatever the reason, it can seem like a challenge to make church a priority. But how often do we think of the bigger picture, how our participation in the worship service exalts the God of the universe?

This past month we had the blessing of worshipping in a couple of churches in Montevideo. As our all-night flight reminded us, Uruguay is far from the U.S. In fact, this Uruguayan city is the southern most capital city in the Americas, being roughly the same latitude as Kansas, but in the southern hemisphere. And just like whatever city you call home, there are Christians from a variety of denominations and traditions setting aside Sunday to worship the Triune God. The same is true of every country that has a Christian church all over the world both today and throughout the past 2000 years.

I was particularly moved during one worship service in which a visiting pastor from Brazil was preaching. He spoke in Portuguese, and our Brazilian missionary colleague translated into Spanish. That morning the Word of God spoke powerfully to me as I heard it preached. And it was just this past May that we had the opportunity to travel to Belize and found ourselves worshiping with the Belizean believers. We sat under the preaching of a local pastor in a morning service and an elder at an evening service. The evening sermon in particular spoke powerfully to the trials in my life. In fact, you or I could go to any country in the world on a Sunday and, as long as the sermon is given or translated into a language we understand, it will speak to us just as powerfully as the sermon given in our home church. Our Great and Mighty God works through the preaching of the Word by the power of the Holy Spirit in every nation on earth!

Church in South Carolina

In the last book of the Bible, Revelation, the apostle John has a vision where he sees a multi-cultural church service from the end of the age. He describes it like this: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb'” (Rev. 7:9-10). This powerful scene is from the end of the age when there will be worshipers from every part of the world uniting as a group to honor and adore the God of all creation. This is the goal of missions and the consummation of all things. Christianity doesn’t belong to one country, one continent or one language but to all peoples.

Worship service in Uruguay
Church service in Uruguay

There is very real sense in which, on a smaller scale, this verse is being lived out every single Sunday, in all parts of the world. During this one 24 hour period, each and every week, believers are meeting together to worship and to be encouraged in the Word. Some churches are large, others are tiny. Some meet out in the open and include among their members powerful political leaders. Others meet in fear and in secret hoping not be found out by the government. What unites them? Worship of the Triune God. On this one day each week, God is hearing from His people all over the world. Each and every week, there is a foretaste of that day in the future when we will be united all together. Sure, now, this Sunday, we will be separated by geography, by language, by denomination and even by the age in which we live. But whether we gather with fifteen believers or 1500, we are still gathered with a multitude giving God the worship due His name. On that day in the future our numbers will be larger. There will be believers from each age from the time of Adam and Eve. There will be peoples from every tribe – even tribes that only number in the thousands. There will be people with strange languages and different customs. There will be people whose nations were once at war with one another, now united.

A church In Belize

There is a real sense that when we meet each Sunday, we are privileged to be joining the chorus of voices that also meet that very day all over the world. We are making a joyful noise to our God as we remember with our singing, our prayers and our sermons, that He is the Creator and we are the creature (Ps. 95:6-7; Ps. 100). We have the privilege to do this every single Sunday. We don’t have to check our calendars and see which day we might be able to squeeze the service in. No, this has been the command and custom of all churches since the Apostles.

We are united with all believers even if we aren’t with them in the same room. And this is also why so many churches remember to lift up the persecuted church in their pastoral prayer each Lord’s Day. We remember our brothers and sisters that meet as they are commanded to do, and yet they do so in fear and concern. We may fight against the temptation to get a couple more hours of sleep or to be there in body but with thoughts that are far away. They fight against the temptation to stay away for fear of another bombing or a police raid. But for them just like us, this our privilege to give our God the sacrifice of worship that is due His name and it is our honor to be part of this great cloud of witnesses (Rom. 12:1-3; Heb. 11 & Heb. 12:1-3). And when we meet, we are not just joining in with our group of 50 or 200. We are joining in with the literally millions of Christians who are meeting on this very same day in a worship service that is both shockingly similar to ours and also strange and foreign, testifying to the greatness of our God.

So whether you were or were not in church last Sunday, as this Sunday approaches, may you allow these considerations to shape your decision about what priority the worship service will have in your life. Worshiping God with every tongue, tribe and nation is not something that will be reserved just for that day when the new heavens and earth is ushered in, but in a very real sense is happening here and now every week,