North American Missions Offering

Much has been said the last few months about giving and going to the nations. Parkwood celebrated sacrificial and significant giving to the International Missions Offering in December, and earlier this month, we gloried in the mission of God during Mission Impact Celebration. Much of Parkwood’s focus has been looking beyond the United States and even North America to the global cities and hard to reach places of the ends of the earth. Now, however, we turn our attention to the North American Missions Offering, what Southern Baptists have historically referred to as the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering. 

It is important to see these offerings with a consistent vision rather than at odds with one another. To see these offerings with consistent vision, consider two things: the meaning of harvest fields and the reason for disproportionate giving. First, consider the meaning of harvest fields in the Scriptures. Begin with the Great Commission command to go and make disciples. Since going is actually a participle, the instruction is to make disciples as you go. As you go, make disciples near or far. Most should make disciples everyday during the course of your going to school, to work, to play. Others, though, should leave and intentionally go cross-culturally to make disciples. If we are to make disciples among the nations, then the geographical goal of that command necessarily includes the place in which you live. 

Likewise, this near and far tension relates to the harvest field. Followers of Christ are commanded to earnestly pray to the Lord of the harvest that he will send workers into the harvest fields. What fields? Certainly he does not only mean international locations to the neglect of closer places. What did Jesus say to his disciples before ascending? Indeed he directed his disciples to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. When we consider the harvest fields, then, it is consistent to consider each of these geographical locations as legitimate fields of service. Jesus tells his disciples that the fields are white for harvest, and later he tells them to go to their current city (Jerusalem), to regions beyond their city (Judea), including areas that are different or even difficult (Samaria), and of course, to the ends of the earth. When you consider the biblical directive to go to the harvest field, therefore, do not negate every harvest field for one particular field. The hard to reach places are harvest fields for which we should pray and to which we should go, but other harvest fields exist also, perhaps in your own backyard.

Second, the reason for disproportionate giving to international missions should be understood in view of disproportionate need. No doubt much is said at Parkwood about going from the United States to the nations, about going to global cities and hard to reach places, about naming Christ where he has not been named, and no doubt Parkwood exhorts the church to give and send and pray toward these end of the earth harvest fields. But spurring this international harvest field focus is the reality of drastic need. Of course the lost are in the United States, but also across this country are many Christians and churches and resources. In the forty-five unreached people groups of the Caucasus Mountains, for example, many more lost live with much fewer Christians, churches, and resources. So we unashamedly raise the call to go to other nations even while we consistently go, pray, and send to our own country and North America.

For these reasons, it is consistent and right to highlight the far and hard to reach harvest fields even while we give through the North American Missions Offering to the North American Mission Board. With this vision for missions, would you please consider this week what you might give next week to the North American Missions Offering? I pray we would give faithfully and obediently in accordance with the gift given to us in the gospel.

Fasting and Prayer 2

And when you fast…

Having discussed the why of fasting in the previous post, we will here discuss the how. So how do you fast? Fasting is the negation of the physical for the promotion of the spiritual. Fasting is the intentional denial of a physical need, such as food, for the purpose of increasing your time and focus upon Christ in prayer and meditation. Abstinence from food increases your awareness of, dependence upon, and availability to God. A fast transfers desire for food into longing after God. When your stomach churns and growls for lack of nourishment, your mind is poignantly aware of your greater need for spiritual nourishment as attention is diverted from the physical reality to the equally true but radically more important spiritual reality. While you might be aware of your need for God without fasting, resisting physical need heightens your awareness of your spiritual need. Beyond awareness, fasting simply provides opportunity to reserve unhurried and extended time in the presence of God if the hours previously reserved for taking meals are given not to food but to prayer and meditation. In fasting, you intentionally decrease your desire for physical food and intentionally increase your desire for heavenly food; you loosen your grasp on physical need in order to strengthen your grasp on spiritual need.

Is it possible to fast from something other than food, technology for example? Sure, it’s possible. Refraining from food is not the only way to fast. Refusing other things, though, may lack the element of sacrificing need, as opposed to eliminating preference or convenience. Fasting from music is different than fasting from food, because food has a quality of need. Your body does not need music; it needs food. If you typically watch several hours of television each day, and you were to fast from television, then you would, appropriately and beneficially, be providing yourself unhurried and extended time with God. Fasting from television, you would have more time to pray, and may become highly aware, even distressed, by missing your favorite show. But the distinction remains that you do not need the television like you need food. Technology does, however, hold some similitude to need, particularly as we have become severely dependent on our iPhones and Androids. To the extent that we feel need and fulfillment in technology or something else, fasting from such things would be appropriate and helpful for our spiritual vitality.

Let’s consider how fasting might look generally in your life and specifically on December 16. Generally, fasting occurs during a meal, for a day, or over consecutive days that you choose to fast, either by way of discipline or because some situation has occasioned the fast, i.e. worship, grief over sin or otherwise, decision, need for help, or seeking the return of Christ. First, having chosen the meal, day, or days you will fast, act normal during the course of the day. Everyone you meet need not know that you are fasting (Matthew 6:16-18). Then fast and do not eat. Give your time to prayer and meditation. Since your day is focused on your fasting, you will likely pray more throughout the day as well, but intently give your mealtime(s) to God. As you give yourself to practice the presence of God, worship him, confess and repent of sin, seek clarity for decision, plead for his helping hand, and/or cry out for his return. Your fasting will be pleasing to God when your heart is surrendered to him. Don’t worry about experiential details. He wants you more than he wants your sacrifice, so give yourself to God as you fast.

The Parkwood faith family is called to a time of corporate prayer and fasting on Wednesday, December 16. You can choose to fast the entire day if you prefer, but everyone should (if you can) fast during lunch and supper on that day. You can pray on your own if necessary during lunch, or you could plan to gather as small prayer groups. Let me encourage you to spend a lunch break with other believers in prayer. Meet somewhere for lunch, or if not for lunch, then somewhere sometime during the day. At 6:30pm, though, we will meet as a church in the worship center and pray together. We will pray earnestly. More earnestly than our bodies hunger after food, we will hunger after our heavenly Father.

The focus of our prayer and fasting on this day is threefold: the International Missions Offering (IMO), global workers, and sending Parkwood members to the Lake Wylie campus. For the IMO, pray prayers of petition, asking God to bless and increase this offering. Pray prayers of decision, asking the Father to lead you to give sacrificially. And pray prayers for Christ’s coming. For global workers, pray prayers of petition, asking the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into the harvest (Matthew 9:36-38). Pray prayers of decision, asking if he would have you go to the harvest. And pray prayers for his coming, for that is why we give and that is why we go, that his mission to magnify his glory and proclaim his gospel might be accomplished among all nations. Finally, for sending Parkwood members, pray prayers of petition, asking that God would lead this work and make it fruitful for the kingdom in this community. And pray prayers of decision, asking if you are being called out to this new gospel work in Lake Wylie. These three points will focus our praying on December 16. If you would benefit from further direction in prayer, make use of this personal prayer guide.

If you would like additional reading on fasting, consider John Piper’s A Hunger for God or Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.