Director's Web Blog

Friday, April 18th, 2014

The Resurrection and Aunt Patsy

My Aunt Patsy just passed away a few hours ago and in a few days we will celebrate the death and resurrection of our Lord.  Aunt Patsy was a strange mix of compassion, unbelievable generosity, intelligence, stubbornness, and mental illness.  We loved her but sometimes interacting with her was a challenge.  Always sure she was afflicted by a host of diseases, always telling us the things that were wrong with her when we called and getting angry if we tried to speak positively, she lived to the age of 89.  It appeared that her mental illness killed her as she withdrew from all contact with people (refusing to accept our calls) and willed herself to death by not eating and drinking.

Hers was an extremely sad death but in a few days we will celebrate the death and resurrection of our Lord.  Although her mental illness robbed her of much joy and peace, I believe Aunt Patsy knew Jesus Christ as Savior.  The reality of the resurrection means that Aunt Patsy has peace and joy now and that one day she will have an unbelievably wonderful existence in a new, resurrection body.  All who know Jesus Christ as Savior will! 

Death in our Mission family seems to have been unusually present recently.  Many have lost loved ones, especially parents, in these last few weeks and months.  But the reality of the resurrection more than overshadows the sadness and separation of death! 

John MacArthur quotes an unknown author, writing of death: 

There is a preacher of the old school but he speaks as boldly as ever. He is not popular, though the world is his parish and he travels every part of the globe and speaks in every language. He visits the poor, calls upon the rich, preaches to people of every religion and no religion, and the subject of his sermon is always the same. He is an eloquent preacher, often stirring feelings which no other preacher could, and bringing tears to eyes that never weep. His arguments none are able to refute, nor is there any heart that has remained unmoved by the force of this appeals. He shatters life with his message. Most people hate him; everyone fears him. His name? Death. Every tombstone is his pulpit, every newspaper prints his text, and someday every one of you will be his sermon.

Easter reminds us that death for the Christian does not have the final say.  Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15, considers the implications of the overwhelming victory secured by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:

  1. Our Gospel message of forgiveness of sins is true and real (vss. 12-19). 1 Corinthians 15:17 (ESV) And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.
  2. The risen Christ leads our way through death to life (vss. 20-28). 1 Corinthians 15:23 (ESV)  But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.
  3. It makes sacrifice in this life worthwhile (vss. 29-34).  1 Corinthians 15:32 (ESV) What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”
  4. It holds wonderful promise of a glorified body (vss. 35-49). 1 Corinthians 15:49 (ESV) Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.
  5. And perhaps most glorious of all, our Lord’s resurrection foreshadows the ultimate removal of death (vss. 50-56).   1 Corinthians 15:54 (ESV) When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”

The reality of our Lord’s resurrection has clear implications for our life and ministry.  We ought always to regroup within the truth that Jesus lives when the pain and separation of death assails us.  Every celebration of Easter ought to reinforce our Christian perspective on life and death and life after death.  Every realization of the many perishing around us, of the many who have never heard the Gospel message ought to drill the burden to reach them with the Gospel deep within our souls as we continue to serve our risen Lord:

Our labor for Jesus Christ is completely worthwhile!

1 Corinthians 15:58 (ESV) 58  Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

May you and I, as we experience the death of a loved one, be strengthened in our resolve to serve Jesus as we celebrate His resurrection!


Monday, December 23rd, 2013

“Joy to the World” is a Christmas Hymn

JoyWhat a wonderful announcement long ago in a field somewhere on the outskirts of Bethlehem!  Shepherds, paralyzed by fear, heard a stunning and fear-allaying message: 

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:10-12 (ESV)

Forever, the Christmas story would be linked with “great joy.”  And for good reason.  In the fullness of time, the Savior was born.  The little babe was and is “Christ the Lord.”  Our Redeemer had arrived!

Joy—that emotion akin to happiness but running much deeper and grounded in God’s person, promises, and activity in the world and thus, unable to be disturbed by changing, outward circumstances.

One expression of our joy during this season is the hymn “Joy to the World.”  The astute among us recognize that this hymn really speaks of Christ’s second coming, not so much His first.  Written by Isaac Watts, the song was first published in 1719 as part of Watts’s collection: The Psalms of David: Imitated in the language of the New Testament, and applied to the Christian state and worship.   Watts based his song on Psalm 98, not on the events of Christmas.

Yet, I find within the Christmas story, the understanding and foreshadowing of the second coming as well.  However you might understand eschatology, the Christmas story is not complete without the life of Christ, the death and burial of Christ, His resurrection, and His Second Coming.  The first coming of Christ sets in motion all of that—and knowing that brings us great joy.  It is perfectly appropriate to sing “Joy to the World” thinking of both His first and His second coming.  Actually, if you carefully read the Christmas story you can’t think of one without the other!

Matthew, in his account of the birth of Christ, refers to both past prophecies and their future fulfillment in the Second Coming.  Our Lord’s birth is the fulfillment Of Isaiah 7:14.  The child’s virgin birth and name “Immanuel” or “God with us” speaks of an eternal enduring that transcends His first appearance on earth.  Matthew also quotes Micah 5:2, a prediction of the birthplace of the shepherd-ruler of Israel. Jesus will be the great shepherd-ruler of Israel at His Second Coming but clearly establishing His right to rule and His qualifications to rule at His first coming.  The wise men have great joy in finding the child (Mat.2:10) knowing that they have found the “king of the Jews.”  His full crowning will occur in His Second Coming.

The glorious announcement of the angel to Mary makes clear that our Lord’s birth will usher in an eternal Davidic reign and kingdom.

And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”  Luke 1:30-33 (ESV)

Much remains unfulfilled in His first coming but a throne is coming.  The angel looks ahead, not just to His arrival and ministry on earth but also to the final and complete fulfillment of the purpose in His coming.  These promises will ultimately be fulfilled when Jesus Christ the Lord takes His seat on the great white throne (Rev. 20:11).

So it is great to sing “Joy to the World” at Christmas.  Not only do we know that Jesus Christ came to give His life as a ransom payment for our sins, but we also know that one day He is coming back!  We have a deep-seated and enduring passion/joy that one day He will wipe away every tear.  Christmas reminds us of a birth, a life, a death, a burial, a resurrection, and a coming again!

In these turbulent and difficult times, may this Christmas not just be a reminder of His first Coming but His second Coming as well.  Joy to the World!


Saturday, November 23rd, 2013

Village Missions and the Affordable Care Act or ObamaCare

Background:  When I became Executive Director in November 2000, Village Missions had a self-funded health insurance plan, in other words, we were our own insurance carrier.  We collected premiums from the churches we served and used a T.P.A. (Third Party Administrator) to administrate medical bills.  We carried stop-loss insurance to cover major medical expenses.  Over the years, various consultants advised us on the best structuring of our plan.  One particular challenge was finding P.P.O.’s (Preferred Provider Organizations) for missionaries serving in diverse and often extremely rural locations.

At the time I became Director, the premium charged was insufficient to meet the medical costs.  I worked with the Village Missions Employee Benefit Board to eliminate the deficit through a premium increase.  Although some churches ended their relationship with Village Missions because of this increase, the plan was balanced and the deficit eventually erased.

For a period of three years prior to 2012, we were able to maintain our premium at $950 a month, in spite of double-digit health care cost increases.  Unfortunately, one of the ways we lowered costs was by raising our stop-loss level to $160,000.  Although this lowered premiums, when six of our missionaries became seriously ill, the plan began to go into serious deficit in 2011.  The Board voted to increase the premium to $1,025 per month in January 2012, but this amount was too little, too late. By July 2012 our plan had experienced a $750,000 deficit.  The Benefit Board made the decision to switch to Regence Blue Cross, a group plan, in August 2012.  This required a premium increase to $1,216 per month for a couple or family.

We learned two things from our experience that are relevant for the national health care debate.  First, the margin of profit for health insurance companies is small.  Our self-funded plan ended with a significant loss.  Second, only a small group of seriously ill people in a plan accounts for most of the cost.  Some within this group may have chronic, long-term conditions.  Others may have serious health issues that are temporary, such as treatable cancer.  But together, they are the significant cost drivers in any plan.

So, with that background in mind, this is the announcement and explanation I recently sent to our missionaries and churches.

Re: No Increase in Village Missions Benefit Plan Premium in 2014

I am happy to report that no increase in the premium for health insurance, disability, and life insurance (the Village Missions Employee Benefit Plan), will occur in 2014.  I am thanking the Lord for this unexpected development.

 If you don’t want to read all the details which follow below, here are the summaries:

  • Several aspects of the ACA (Affordable Care Act/ObamaCare) put upward pressure on our premium.
  • In negotiations, Regence Blue Cross went from a 9.3% increase in premium for 2014 to no increase.
  • Changes in our plan will not have a significant impact on most missionaries.
  • At this point, Village Missions is required to provide health insurance under the ACA.
  • Other options continue to be explored, but for now, the Village Missions Employee Benefit Board believes we should stay with Regence Blue Cross as our health insurance provider.

Upward Pressure on Plan  As you know, ObamaCare or the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been much in the news.  One underreported aspect of the ACA is the fees charged employer provided insurance plans to help pay for the exchanges.  We are being charged the “carrier tax” (2.3% of previous year premium) and the “reinsurance fee” (1.6% of previous year premium) in 2014 as well as a 3.47% fee to help pay for the Oregon Health Exchange.[1]  We are being charged this fee because we are headquartered in Oregon.  Recently, the Obama administration indicated that they would exempt unions from the reinsurance fee but other employers such as Village Missions are required to pay it.[2]  In addition, mandated changes in coverage under ACA put upward pressure on our plan as well as the estimated 6% increase in medical costs.

Negotiations Eliminate Increase    Initially, Regence Blue Cross (our health insurance provider) wanted to increase our premium by 9.3%, an increase of $112 per month.  Our Benefit Board told our consultants that this increase was unacceptable.  Our consultants were able to find some cost savings in their proposal and some relatively minor changes in coverage resulted in a small decrease in the premium.  The changes in coverage actually brought us more in line with the ACA, avoiding the future Excise Tax (40%) in 2018 for having a so-called “Cadillac” plan. [3]  This Excise Tax for “Cadillac” plans is another little known aspect of the ACA that affects employer provided plans.

Changes in the Plan  Changes in the new plan are relatively minor.  The deductible increases from $750 per person and $1500 per family to $1,000 per person and $2500 per family.  Yet, now office visits as well as prescription costs will count towards the deductible (they didn’t before) and the co-pays for physicians and specialists are the same at $25 per visit.  Maximum out of pocket expenses have been raised from $1500 to $2,500 individual and $3,000 Family to $7,500 to comply with ACA.  Of the 709 Village Missionaries and dependents in our plan, 87% did not even reach the $750 deductible in 2013.  The Helping Fund will be available for the seriously ill Village Missionaries most affected by the changes in our plan.

Village Missions Required to Provide Coverage  Village Missions as an employer with over fifty employees is currently required under the ACA to provide health insurance or otherwise face the “Sledge Hammer Penalty.”  This is an annual tax of $2,000 for each full-time employee, disregarding the first 30 full-time employees.[4]  Village Missions, however, is different from a regular employer in that our Village Missionaries have, in effect, a dual-status employment between the local church and us.  The United Methodist Church is similar in that their local districts provide health insurance, which is paid for by each church in the district.  Interestingly, the United Methodist Church, a big advocate for the ACA, has now petitioned the IRS (yes, the IRS) to be exempted from the requirement to provide insurance. [5]  [6]  They believe that each local pastor could obtain cheaper insurance through the exchanges.  Of course, the appeal came before the exchange disaster that is now occurring. At this time, our consultants believe Village Missions is required to provide coverage, pending the outcome of this appeal.

Other Options Considered  The Benefit Board considered other options such as going back to a self-funded plan or obtaining coverage through a Christian sharing plan.  Three factors caused the Benefit Board to stay with Regence Blue Cross at this time.  First, Blue Cross could cover almost all of our Village Missionaries in their various and often remote locations.  The care received by missionaries has been excellent and we have received virtually no complaints in the office.  This is especially important considering the turmoil currently existing in health care caused by the ACA.  Second, when we switched to Regence Blue Cross we received a one-month premium holiday of $213,935.  As part of our agreement, we would have to refund this premium if we leave Regence Blue Cross before 2015.  Third, we have some missionaries that are severely ill with chronic conditions.  Stop loss policies under a different carrier would start over again.  We are not sure how Christian sharing plans would treat such individuals, as most Christian sharing plans do not cover pre-existing conditions.  Interestingly, somehow Christian sharing plans were exempted from the requirements of the ACA such as covering pre-existing conditions.

Summary  The Village Missions Employee Benefit Board will continue to monitor the rapidly changing health care environment.  They are committed to providing good health care for our missionaries at a cost that our churches can afford.  The increases in insurance in recent years have affected Village Missionaries, the churches we serve, and Village Missions.  Yet we have seen God provide and the fact that we don’t have to increase our premium this year is a wonderful answer to prayer.  Please keep praying!


[1] http://www.thelundreport.org/resource/oregon%E2%80%99s_health_insurance_exchange_leads_the_nation

[2] http://thehill.com/blogs/healthwatch/health-reform-implementation/189413-labor-unions-may-get-tax-wish-on-obamacare

[3] http://www.uhc.com/united_for_reform_resource_center/health_reform_provisions/excise_tax_on_high_cost_coverage.htm

[4] http://hrhorizons.nacubo.org/newsletter/past-issues/volume-8-issue-1/countdown-to-health-care-reform.html

[5] http://www.umc.org/site/apps/nlnet/content3.aspx?c=lwL4KnN1LtH&b=5259669&ct=13195933

[6] http://church-alliance.org/sites/default/files/images/u2/Church_Alliance__Comment_Letter_on_Employer_Shared_Responsibility_NPRM_AQH.pdf


Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

The Rural Church—Missional Community?

Sarah was in kindergarten when we moved to Red Feather Lakes, CO as Village Missionaries.  Red Feather Lakes, elevation 8500 feet, is a fifty-mile drive from Ft. Collins, the location of the nearest bank, doctor, and Wal-Mart.  The only sounds we heard at night were the coyotes, the owls, and the wind.  Talk about being far, far removed from city life!

Our daughter now lives in and loves Los Angeles!  I wonder what we did wrong!  Seriously, we’re quite proud of her, a teacher at an inner-city school.  She does retain, however, some vestiges of rural life—she loves the outdoors and she attends a small church.

I’ve been intrigued by her small church because they are particularly interested in what they call being a missional community.  As I understand it, they seek to achieve Biblical fellowship in which they support one another in an experience of true Christianity.  They are actively seeking to help each other grow in Christ.  They are missional in that they wish to reach their neighborhood for Christ, primarily by showing Christlikeness to those around them.  If you would like to read some articles explaining missional community, you can click on this link and this link.

I like to kid Sarah so I often, perhaps too often, tell her that if the members of her church would like to witness true missional community they should visit a church served by Village Missions.  I’ve told her there is no greater place to be in “community” than in a rural church!  Moreover, there is no greater opportunity to be in relationship with those who don’t know Christ than in a rural community.  Her congregation has to work at and strategize to achieve what comes naturally to the rural church.  Of course, I’m biased!

Recently, I’ve been reflecting more on the truth behind my kidding.  Although we may be uncomfortable with the new terminology (missional community) if it means seeking to help each other grow in Christ and intentionally seeking to reach those around us for Christ both by modeling and by witness, than I think that is completely Biblical.  If the above defines a missional community, then most churches would probably fall short of achieving it.  Most churches seem content to take a programmatic approach of teaching and activity without application and without much in the way of true community. 

To some extent, the rural church has bought into this programmatic model, often producing feelings of inferiority.  The rural church can never achieve the glitz and glamor of the urban/suburban churches in its worship teams, its facilities, its youth and children’s activities, and much of its teaching.  However, the rural church can excel in missional community and even take the lead and set the example in doing so.

In my experience as a Village Missionary and now as Executive Director I’ve witnessed so many of the churches we serve having “missional community”—they just don’t know that’s what it is called!  Suppose rural churches realized that is what they have and started building on this inherent strength of theirs!  It would not take any finances or other resources but would take simply realizing that we are to help each other grow in Christ and we are to be Christ to the community around us.

Imagine how effective missional community would be with the web of relationships we already have within a rural community!  Members of the church we served in Red Feather Lakes, myself included, interacted with the community in numerous ways.  Here are just a few: the Fire Department, the school, the Historical Society, the Lions Club, the local restaurants, walking, golf, fishing, the local stores, and annual activities such as the 4th of July parade and fireworks, Fire Days (fund raiser for fire department), and the Greening of Red Feather (too complicated to explain).  We already were missional largely without realizing it by distributing food, ministering to children, and helping people in the community in need.  However, in some sense, we were trying to be the big city type church, instead of being what we naturally were, because of our location, a missional community.

Carole and I recently had the privilege of attending the dedication of the new church building in Jennings, MI.  Over two hundred and fifty people attended this wonderful celebration of God’s provision and working in Jennings.  When Village Missionaries Larry and Kathy Shetenhelm arrived in Jennings in 2006 and found a congregation of eight people (see the video), they emphasized being a missional community as well as preaching of the Word of God.  They may not have called it that but when they went around the community picking up people’s yards and hauling off their trash, when they obtained a grant for playground equipment, when they established a food pantry, they were being missional!  When they reached out to hurting people, loving and accepting them—people like Jeff, who had been arrested for drugs, and his family, they were being a community of Christ followers.  No one ever used the phrase during the dedication but I heard repeated stories of the Jennings Community Church being a missional community.

Another recent example is the Chalk Hills Community Church in Scotia, NE, served by Village Missionaries Jeremiah and Elizabeth Knoop.  I asked Jeremiah to send me a list of some of the “missional” things his congregation is doing (video of Scotia).  Here is a list of some of those things:

 

*Jim & Sara: renovated their basement to house a homeless woman.  *Richard & Tenise: living out true “religion” by adopting some boys from Haiti *Roger: auctioned off nearly all of his worldly possessions and gave proceeds to the church.  He also gave his VERY NICE car away to a missionary family and gave his truck to be sold and the proceeds giving toward families in the church who are adopting.  *Bill & Judy: turned down offers of renting their town home, using it as a mission home instead *Elizabeth and I took in three foster boys and are also in the process of adopting another child from Africa.  Last summer we also housed a homeless mom and her three kids.  *Tim and Shelly have organized their home to be used for the same purpose if the Lord opens the doors for such a purpose.  *Four families have signed up to be respite care providers for the foster system *One of the women started a “Meal Ministry” where she organizes a group of women in the church to provide meals for families/individuals who are going through a hard time.  *Several families are boxing up all our excess clothes, coats and blankets and are utilizing our contacts in bigger cities to personally distribute them where the homeless hang out *Our council voted to double our missionary giving and designate every fifth Sunday as Village Missions Sunday – where all the tithes/offerings are sent to Village Missions.  *Several of the women in Chalk Hills just recently returned from their first oversees mission trip *Some individuals have started home Bible Studies.

What would happen if the rural church realized that her great strength is “missional community” and did everything she could to build on her strength?


Monday, February 11th, 2013

The Widow’s Mite Today

 

A friend of mine gave me this coin, which is believed to be an actual “mite” from around the time of Christ.

41And He sat down opposite the treasury, and began observing how the people were putting money into the treasury; and many rich people were putting in large sums. 42A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent. 43Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; 44for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.”  Mark 12:41-44 NASB

When we visited Larry and JoAnn in Arizona the last time in early February 2012, we learned that Larry had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  Larry and JoAnn had once worked at Stonecroft Ministries.  We have known them for several years and visit them each time we are in Arizona.  Like so many of our donors, they are a godly couple with limited means but big hearts!  They love what Village Missions does in sending couples to country churches.

We visited Larry and JoAnn again on our recent visit to Arizona in March.  The news was not good.  Larry couldn’t handle the chemotherapy they were giving him and was hospitalized three times in the short time since we saw them last.  They had made the difficult decision to stop chemotherapy.  As we were leaving, a social worker stopped by to talk with them about hospice care.

I am telling you this because of what happened during our meeting with these dear folks.  Larry and JoAnn, with tears in their eyes, apologized to me because they would no longer be able to give to Village Missions they way they had in the past.  Their medical expenses are simply too great to be able to do so.

I am amazed at how often donors will apologize to me that they have to cut back on their giving to Village Missions.  A few days ago, a donor wrote that his “precious wife of 61 years, is in an Alzheimer’s Center, now at $6400 per month.”  He still managed to send in $25 and assure me of his continued prayers on our behalf.

Several things have been rewarding about my position as Director of Village Missions, but meeting and learning of such people who follow in the spirit of the widow who gave her last mite is among my chief privileges.  Their generous spirit humbles me.  I thank God that we have such partners in our ministry of bringing the Gospel to country communities.

Let me tell you one more thing (among many others) that’s encouraging to me, this time regarding Village Missionaries.  Village Missions does not have many large donors.  We only have about 200 people who have given more than $2,000 in the last two years.  However, a significant percentage of those donors who have given above $2,000 are Village Missionaries.  How rewarding and encouraging to know that our own missionaries not only serve sacrificially but also give sacrificially to advance the cause of Christ in rural North America!  Again, I am humbled to stand with such a dedicated group of men and women.

Of course, our current financial woes are cause for concern.  But if God is bringing places of great need to our attention, leading people to apply so that we have people to send, and causing His servants to give sacrificially, should we not be encouraged and hopeful?  Righting our financial ship will require sacrifice on all our parts—members of the Village Missions family as well as the churches we serve.  But surely the above examples will inspire us all to strive together to make sure that men and women, boys and girls in rural communities across our country hear about Jesus. 

(I posted this article in our Family Newsletter in March 2012.  Since I’ve just returned from another visit to Arizona, and once again was awed by the donors who give to Village Missions, I thought I would post this on the blog.  Larry went home to be with the Lord last July.  Larry and Joann were able to sell their home and move to a retirement home before he passed away.  Joann misses Larry terribly but she is doing quite well and is still active on the missions committee of Grace Bible Church).


Friday, January 18th, 2013

The Arctic Wooly Bear and Village Missions

I recently watched a program on Animal Planet about springtime in the artic. One creature that they referred to as the Wooly Worm (Banded Wooly Worm or Banded Wooly Bear) particularly caught my attention. The Wooly Worm, similar in appearance to the Wooly Worms I’ve often seen in the country, freezes solid in the winter and then comes to life again in the spring! I was intrigued that such an insect would exist, so I did some further research using that ultimate resource, Wikipedia. Another article refers to the moth as Gynaephora groenlandica.

According to the article in Wikipedia, the moth Pyrrharctia Isabella,

. . . can be found in many cold regions, including the Arctic. The banded Woolly Bear larva emerges from the egg in the fall and overwinters in its caterpillar form, when it literally freezes solid. First its heart stops beating, then its gut freezes, then its blood, followed by the rest of the body. It survives being frozen by producing a cryoprotectant in its tissues. In the spring it thaws out and emerges to pupate. Once it emerges from its pupa as a moth it has only days to find a mate before it dies.

Not only does it freeze solid, but also this freezing and thawing occurs several times. Again, according to the article,

Caterpillars normally become moths within months of hatching in most temperate climates, but in the Arctic the summer period for vegetative growth and hence feeding is so short, that the Woolly Bear feeds for several summers, freezing again each winter before finally pupating.  Some are known to live through as many as 14 winters.

What a thoroughly amazing, complex, and intricately creative God we serve! How could anyone believe that such an insect could evolve through time and chance? How could it adapt to totally freezing? What hidden mechanism enables the Wooly Bear, after every bodily function has ceased, to spring to active life once it thaws in the spring? A God that is beyond our ability to fathom creates a lowly insect that is also beyond our ability to fathom.

How does the Wooly Bear relate to Village Missions? I marveled at the Wooly Bear but I should equally marvel at the springing to life of someone who is spiritually dead! Paul writes in Ephesians 2:5: “even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).” I was dead for many years but God brought miraculous life to my soul in July 1972, shortly before my twenty-second birthday. He continues to bring dead souls to life all across the United States and Canada, as He is doing all across the world. Often He does so in the “unremembered” places we serve and in the unlikeliest of people!

We will face many challenges in 2013 and I’m sure the spiritual battle will grow ever more difficult. But is that a challenge that can faze the God who creates the Wooly Bear or can bring us to new life in Christ?

 


Tuesday, August 14th, 2012

The Shortest Distance Between Two Points

“Flo,” my Garmin GPS.

I like using a GPS. Being a location-challenged person, with all our travels its nice having that girl (we call her Flo) in the box tell me where to go!

Sometimes it’s an adventure. My older model GPS will pick out the shortest route distance wise between two points, which is sometimes not the quickest route. Carole and I have traveled some interesting back roads and stopped at more traffic lights than necessary. When traveling, often the shortest distance between two points is not the quickest.

In a time long before a GPS, I’m sure Joe Israel wondered why God and Moses were leading him out from Egypt on what was obviously the wrong route. The coastal route would be the shortest route by far—an important consideration for such a large group of people. The Great Trunk Road, as it was called, held great promise for water, food, and speed as it moved through the Fertile Crescent toward its ultimate destination of Babylonia. Besides, it made sense from a sentimental and even spiritual standpoint to travel back along the way Israel and his family of seventy had originally come to find refuge in Egypt. What a testimony to God’s blessing—all along the way bystanders would learn that those who were once seventy in number are now, by God’s grace, one million!

Instead, God led them in a southeasterly direction, “by way of the wilderness of the Red Sea.” Any Israelite familiar with geography would know that God was leading them further away from the route they needed to travel. Joe Israel knew he was following the Lord—the pillar was unmistakable—but was the Lord lost?

Joe’s consternation grew when God had the Israelites turn back and camp next to the Red Sea by Pi Hahiroth. What a perfect place to be trapped! What was God accomplishing by leading them in circles? Pharaoh felt they were “bewildered” by the wilderness. They probably were!

God had a plan all along. He knew that the most direct route would lead directly to failure. The danger existed that the “people change their minds when they see war, and return to Egypt” (Exodus 13:17). God had more in mind. “Then I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, so that he will pursue them; and I will gain honor over Pharaoh and his army, that the Egyptians may know that I am the Lord” (Exodus 14:4). God brought incredible glory to Himself when He parted the Red Sea. No sea existed on the most direct route!

How often does “direct-route” kind of thinking appeal to us, even in ministry! We think we know the best, most direct way to achieve a goal or produce a result. Whether it’s a new building, reaching a community for Christ, adding a Bible study, or whatever, let’s get it done as quickly and easily as possible.

Yet, God may have a little camping expedition by the Red Sea in mind. He just might know that our most direct route leads directly to disaster. His glory just might transcend our wish for a quick fix.

I have to remember this important lesson of God-led travel as I lead Village Missions. God has provided the fields that need help and lately, the missionaries to send. He just hasn’t quite provided the money quickly and easily, like I would like Him to do. But perhaps He knows something I don’t know about the path I would choose. Perhaps a “bewildering way” awaits that involves a camping trip by a large body of water. Perhaps He has His glory in mind!

What kind of travel route does God have marked out for you? Does it seem to be headed in the wrong direction? Is your trip a bit bewildering? Perhaps God knows things you don’t know. Perhaps His glory is part of the plan He has for you.


Friday, August 3rd, 2012

Pictures of Village Missions Events and Churches

It has been quite some time since I posted links to the places and events that Carole and I have visited over the last several months. This is your chance to take an armchair visit to some of our fields.

What Could Possibly Happen in Kendrick, CO?

Visit to a New Field in Arizona

The Good Shepherd of Bliss

Valentines Party at Blodgett Community Church

Village Missions Mini-Conference at Cannon Beach

Candidate School Spring 2012 One of the couples at this school, Dan and Cheryl Wuthrich, are now serving in Mayer, AZ. See the above link!

Visit to Country Chapel near Oakley, Kansas

2012 Small-Town Pastor’s Conference

Visit to Snug Harbour

ANAM 2012 Leadership Forum and Elisha Initiative

Intergenerational Church: Meadowbrook Community Church in Alberta


Thursday, June 21st, 2012

Village Missions Changes Health Care Coverage

Summary: Village Missions has chosen to suspend its self-funded health plan and purchase a fully-insured group plan from Regence BlueCross.

History of Self-Funded Plan Nearly two decades ago, because of rising health insurance costs, Village Missions decided to develop a self-funded health plan.  This plan succeeded in providing adequate coverage for our missionaries serving in a number of diverse and sometimes remote locations.  In spite of rising health care costs averaging 15% a year, we were able to limit increases and keep costs to the churches under control.  From 2009 – 2011 we were able to hold our premium at the same level and still end each fiscal year with a balanced budget. 

Included within our plan were not only health coverage but also disability insurance and a life insurance policy.  In addition, we employed the services of a case management company, Medical Rehabilitation Consultants, that did a wonderful job in assuring that our missionaries with serious health issues received the best care.

Explanation of Rising Costs In an effort to contain cost over the years, we have allowed our stop-loss claims level to rise.  This is the amount at which Village Missions can recover claims cost from a reinsurance policy. In the early years, this amount was set as low as $60,000 per individual.  In order to save premium dollars, it has risen to the current level of $160,000 per individual.  This stop-loss level is sufficient if the plan has only two or three large claims per year.  This year we have had an exceptional number of large claims. In addition, we have had a number of large claims that do not approach the stop–loss level, yet still have had a costly impact.  Six cases accounted for 45% of our medical bills.  Nineteen claims amounted to $907,899 or 83% of our medical bills.  In spite of a premium increase of $75 starting last January, our plan was in a $724,547 deficit at the end of May.  General Fund reserves were used to cover these overages.  Our self-funded plan became unsustainable.

Exploration of Options I instructed our C.F.O., Jim Cross, to begin to explore other options.  A possibility was one of the Christian medical sharing ministries.  We investigated the three major groups but only one, Christian Healthcare Ministries, was willing to cover pre-existing conditions.  Yet even with the large hurdle of pre-existing conditions overcome, this option would represent a significant change in how missionaries access health care.

Missionaries would be considered “self-pay” patients, needing to negotiate up-front with providers, pay for services out-of-pocket, and wait for reimbursement.  There would be no wellness care, no coverage for doctor’s visits or lab work, and no prescription coverage.  Even though the financial structure of this option would include the use of health savings accounts, there is a real concern that missionaries would delay care, not see the doctor when needed and not fill prescriptions, thus causing more serious health problems and greater expense later on.

We could have possibly overcome these obstacles but, ultimately, it would represent a significant transfer of cost and work to Village Missionaries.  We want missionaries to be able to access health care easily when they need it, without concern about cost, or trying to manage a deluge of bills when they are sick.  We want them to be focused on “Preaching the Word and loving the people.”

The second option, chosen unanimously by the Benefit Board, was to purchase a group plan from Regence BlueCross.  Their bid, although higher than our current premium, was much lower than the premium we would have to charge churches to balance our plan.  The cost will be $430 for a single (some spouses are on Medicare) and $1220 for a couple or family.  The coverage will be virtually unchanged from what we have now and the change should be quite easy.  We have an effective start date of August 1.  Regence BlueCross has guaranteed this premium for 17 months.

Recognition of Hardship We recognize that this change will present financial hardship to both the churches we serve and to Village Missions.  For Village Missions we estimate that it will require an additional $18,000 a month as we cover the additional costs for our poorer churches and administrative staff.  In addition, it will slow the progress a church makes toward becoming self-supporting, because so much is required to provide health coverage.  It is disturbing that health care has become such a large part of our budget and the budget of churches we serve.  Of course, we are not alone in experiencing this problem.

Village Missions will also face a few difficult months, as claims that have already been incurred under our self-funded plan will need to be covered.  We estimate that $500,000 in bills or more will be out there when the plan ends on July 31.  As we have with the deficit, we will use our reserves to cover these expenses.

Objections Some have asked, “Why not just pray for healing?”  We have prayed for healing and continue to trust God that He will heal.  We are optimistic for many of our seriously ill Village Missionaries.  However, we also believe that God uses the health care we have in this country and that He would have us pay our bills.

Some have advocated letting our missionaries be on their own in finding and paying for their health insurance.  One mission leader told me that he was glad that his mission had made the decision years ago to “get out of providing health insurance.”  Yet I believe that God has used Village Missions precisely because we do care for and support our missionaries.  The salary support and health coverage we provide has enabled our missionaries to go throughout this country to rural communities and dedicate themselves to reaching people for Christ.  We couldn’t do this without the support of our larger churches (once not self-supporting) as well as the many people who sacrificially give to support the work of reaching rural America for Christ.  God has used this approach to win untold numbers of people to Christ, send out a huge number of Christian workers and pastors, and strengthen the thousand or more churches served by Village Missions since 1948.

Conclusion I believe that God has opened this door to enable Village Missions to continue developing spiritually vital churches in rural North America.


Monday, June 18th, 2012

Church Revitalization and Our Cherry Tree

We bought a cherry tree about five years ago.  We only have a small lot but we love cherries and I like to grow things.  We waited until the fall when the few rejected trees at Rite Aid

The Cherry Tree in our backyard

were on sale. 

Our poor tree struggled to survive.  Deer ate most of its branches and leaves while it was still in the pot.  Nonetheless we planted it and amazingly it survived the winter, producing fine new branches and leaves the next spring.  But again the deer found their way back into our back yard and they again stripped our poor cherry tree bare.  It must have an extremely persevering spirit for it again produced some leaves, survived the summer, and grew again the following spring.  It helped considerably when we fenced our back yard! 

The tree has grown tall (about fifteen feet) and luxuriant but has yet to produce more than a few cherries.  A few years ago I noticed that our tree was exuding an amber, gummy substance from several places on the trunk and branches.  I discovered that my tree was infected with a bacterial canker, sometimes known as gummosis.  Little hope was held out for my tree—most sources suggested that death was the only option. 

I am stubborn!  Why cut down such a large, beautiful tree if it could be saved?  I read as much as I could and started upon a plan of revitalization.  I avoided pruning, applied a liberal amount of fertilizer, as well as applying a lot of lime.  I embarked upon the correct schedule of spraying copper—no mean feat with my travel schedule.  This summer I will limit watering—one possible cause of gummosis is wet soil.  Right now the tree is covered with cherries and the gummosis appears to be mostly gone.  I am in hopes of a harvest.

I feel like the vineyard-keeper must have felt in the parable of the fig tree in Luke 13:6-7!  I wonder if he was successful in revitalizing the fig tree.

I thought of my efforts with our cherry tree, the parable of the fig tree, and the ministry of Village Missions as I recently read the 9Marks Journal (November-December 2011).  Josh Gard, a Village Missionary, sent it to me some time ago but I just read it on a recent flight.  The title of the Journal is “Revitalize: Why We Must Reclaim Dying Churches—and How.”  You can find it by clicking on this link or by going to http://www.9marks.org/ and looking for the Nov-Dec 2011 issue under “Articles and Reviews.”

Finally someone was affirming the importance of what we do in Village Missions!  So often the belief in Christian circles seems to be “Let dying churches die and start something new and fresh!”  Cut down that tree and plant something different!  The editor introduces the topic by writing:

Church planting is a great thing, and there’s no need to take anything away from it. But there should also be a default setting in a Christian’s heart that always longs to see dying churches revitalized. It’s not like the debate in your head about whether to fork over $2000 to the mechanic to fix your clunker of a car or to just buy a new one. It’s more like a decision about whether to walk away from a dear but difficult relationship. Our hearts should never want to do that, even if once in a great while we must.

In an article by Bobby Jamieson entitled “The Bible’s Burden for Church Revitalization,” an excellent Scriptural case is made for church revitalization.  One argument for revitalization is that God’s people bear God’s name.  Concern for the honor of His Name should motivate us to revitalize a church.  Writes Jamieson:

So a concern for the name of God, which he has placed upon his people—and upon their corporate gatherings in a special sense (Mt. 18:20)—should move us to reform and revitalize churches. As Mark Dever has so often said, church revitalization is a kingdom two-for-one. You tear down a bad witness and set up a good one in its place.

However, every article in the Journal makes the case for church revitalization in the suburban or urban context.  The case for church revitalization is so much stronger in the rural context!

First, in many places where Village Missions serves if the church dies, the presence of the Gospel dies with it.  The Christians may travel somewhere else to attend church but the non-Christians will not.  Generations will grow up without any meaningful knowledge of Jesus Christ.  Seeing a church turned into an antique store in a location where there is another church is somewhat disturbing.  Seeing a church turned into an antique store where no other church exists sends a chill through the committed believer’s soul.

Second, the impact both of a dying church and a revitalized church is magnified in a rural community.  People in a rural community don’t just see a rundown, fairly empty building—they know the people in that building and their history.  They probably know what brought that church to its current sad state.  They will also know equally as well when Jesus begins to bring life back.  They will know each individual story of a changed life and will directly interact with that life.  They and their children will personally benefit when a church body is doing its kingdom work and shining the Gospel light in the community.  Village Missions has seen this happen in 1000’s of communities since 1948!

Third, when rural churches languish a disproportionate impact occurs on the entire church.  Rural churches have traditionally produced 75% of pastors and missionaries and have been the most faithful in supporting those missionaries.  One only has to visit a rural church to see why.  Visit a rural church and you will see the young people actively involved in ministry.  You will see intergenerational influence and mentoring.  I watched recently as at least two older ladies participated with children under ten in a water balloon toss!  One of those ladies ran up to a teenager and doused him with a bucket of water!  That same teenager played the piano for the worship service.  If you would like to see pictures of these folks click on this link.  Committed followers of Christ are made in the context of such intergenerational fun and support!

Fourth, a community inordinately suffers when the church dies.  Most rural communities lack the social services suburban and urban residents take for granted.  In the community we served in Red Feather Lakes, CO we were fifty miles away from such services.  For example, we started a food distribution program that continues today.  When the church closes or is dying, people have no place to turn to for help.

Fifth, a rural church may be in need of revitalization through no fault of its own.  Young pastors will simply view the rural church as a steppingstone—a place to gain experience before moving on to the situation and place they want to be.  Writes David Hansen in his wonderful book, The Art of Pastoring: Ministry without All the Answers:

Ladder-climbers destroy churches.  There is a crisis in the small churches in our country.  Many of these churches are weak, ingrown, and damaged.  Many do not trust pastors.  They have never known a pastor’s love; they have only known a pastor’s lust.  They have been simply rungs on the climb to success.  These churches are so accustomed to being used by pastors that they never learn how to love a pastor.  They have been courted and jilted time and time again.  They learn not to trust.  They punish pastors.  Pastors willing to engage small churches in long-term, substantial ministry can teach these churches to love and trust pastors again, but it’s hard work.” (Hansen 1994, 69)

What an opportunity we have to send a couple who is called and committed to the rural church—who desires nothing more than to “Preach the Word and love the people!”

The rural church, like our cherry tree, has had a hard past.  But what a potential for fruit if someone will care!


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