The Bad News of Christmas

Merry Christmas from the Wolfs!  Nancy and I wanted to pass along a Christmas greeting with our best wishes during this special time of year.  During the Advent series at Mountain View this year, which we now refer to as the Anticipation series,  my preaching time at both churches was focused on the word “Adore.”  As we remember Jesus’ birth…O Come Let Us Adore Him…and gather to celebrate by praising, worshiping and rejoicing, we do so with anticipation of His second coming. Both miraculous events should fill us with pure adoration for the Savior of the world.

This year Nancy and I have enjoyed reading together from a book written by one of our favourite authors, Paul David Tripp.  He has a new Christmas devotional appropriately called Adore. I wanted share to with you one of my favorite daily readings. It is a fitting reminder to all of us about the good and bad news of Christmas. So, instead of “re-gifting” anything this year, we are “re-posting” Day 12 from Tripp’s book.

Nancy and I pray you’ll be blessed by reflecting on all that Jesus has done for us and who we are in Him.  I think you’ll find that when we recount the bad news of the Christmas story, the good news becomes even more amazing. Merry Christmas!

The Good News and Bad News of Christmas

The birth of Jesus was bad news. It wasn’t just your typical piece of bad news; it was the worst news ever. Maybe you’re thinking right now, “Paul, what in the world are you talking about? How could there be any better news than the coming of the Messiah to earth?” Well, you need to understand that there are two parts of the Christmas story, and you need both parts to make proper sense out of the whole story. The part of the story that tends to get the big billing (and it should) is the amazing, miraculous narrative of God putting on human flesh and coming to earth in the form of a baby. How amazing it is to think that God lay in that manger. God was suckled by Mary. God grew up in Mary and Joseph’s house. God walked the dusty streets of Palestine. God endured hunger, rejection, physical pain, injustice, and yes, even death. Remember, the miracle of Jesus’s birth is that he was fully God and fully man. God gave himself to us in outrageous redemptive love. God exposed himself to what we all face in this terribly broken and dysfunctional world. This story is so amazing, so beyond our normal categories for making sense of things, and so beautiful that it is hard to wrap the thoughts of your brain and the emotions of your heart around it. God has come to earth. Could there ever be better news than this? But there is a second part of the story that makes God’s shocking work of intervention make sense. Why would God do such a thing? What would motivate him to go to such an unthinkable extent?

Whenever you see people do the unexpected or the unusual, it is natural to ask yourself why they thought that their radical action was necessary. This is where the Christmas story is the worst news ever. I’m going to ask you to humbly open your heart to this second part, the bad news part of the Christmas story. God has to invade our world in the person of Jesus because there was simply no other way. And why was there no other way? Prepare for the bad news. There was no other way because our big problem in life is not familial or historical or societal or political or relational or ecclesiastical or financial. The biggest, darkest thing that all of us have to face, and that somehow, someway influences everything we think, say, and do, isn’t outside us; it’s inside. If you had none of the above problems in your life, you would still be in grave danger, because of the danger you are to yourself. If the only thing human beings needed were a little external tweaking of their life circumstances, then the coming of Jesus to earth wouldn’t make any sense. But if the greatest danger to all of us lives inside us and not outside us, then the radical intervention of the incarnation of Jesus is our only hope. Sure, you can run from a bad relationship, you can quit a bad job, you can move from a dangerous neighborhood, and you can leave a dysfunctional church, but you have no ability whatsoever to escape yourself. You and I simply have no ability to rescue ourselves from the greatest danger in our lives. This means that without the birth of Jesus, we are doomed to be destroyed by the danger that lurks inside us from the moment of our first breath. You don’t need to look far in the Bible to know what this danger is. Its stain is on every page of Scripture. Romans 3:23 exposes this danger with a few simple words: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Sin is the bad news of the Christmas story. Jesus didn’t come to earth to do a preaching tour or to hang out with us for a while; he came on a radical mission of moral rescue. He came to rescue us because he knew that we couldn’t rescue ourselves. He knew that sin separates us from God and leaves us guilty before him. He knew that sin makes us active enemies against God, and what he says is good, right, and true. He knew that sin blinds us to the gravity of our condition and our dire need for help. He knew that sin causes us to replace worship of God with an unending catalog of created things that capture the deepest allegiances of our hearts. He knew that sin renders all of us unable to live as we were designed to live. And he knew that sin was the final terminal disease that, without help, would kill us all. But the Christmas story tells us something more. It tells us that Jesus knew that even if we were aware of the great danger within us, in our own wisdom and strength we could not help ourselves. To every human being, sin is the ultimate undefeatable enemy. It captures and controls us all, and there is nothing we can do. It is either the height of arrogance or the depth of delusion to think that you are okay. None of us is okay apart from the invasion of grace that is the core purpose for the coming of Jesus.

Now, if you’re like me, you have trouble believing this bad news. When you do something wrong, you probably try to blame it on stress or sickness, a bad boss, a troublesome spouse, a nerve-racking child, or just the generic pressures of life. When others come to you to point out a wrong, your initial response is probably not to be thankful. If you’re like me, you jump to your own defense, because it’s hard to believe that you’re the sinner that they’re describing. So I want to encourage you today in a fresh way to accept the bad news of the Christmas story because, if you do, the good news becomes all the more comforting and glorious. The Christmas story tells you that you have been freed forever from denying or minimizing the danger that lives inside you because Jesus came to rescue you, forgive you, transform you, and ultimately to deliver you. That baby in the manger carried with him to earth everything that sinners need. It’s only when you admit the need that you will be able to fully celebrate the solution that is Jesus.

For Further Study: Romans 5:6–11

For Parents And Children: Central theme: Good and Bad News Ask your children what they think would be the best news and then the worst news they could ever hear. Talk about how the Christmas story tells us the worst news ever (our sin) and the best news ever (the Savior came to purchase our forgiveness).

Reposted from Tripp, Paul David. Come, Let Us Adore Him (pp. 58-62). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

Desperately Needed: Someone Who “Gets It!”

All of us, somewhere along the way, have sensed when someone doesn’t quite “get it.” It often happens when we’re asked, “So, how’s it going?” or “How are you doing?” It’s easy to say, “Fine…I’m fine”, even when we might not be, because when someone doesn’t “get it”, it’s hard to give a clear and honest answer.

“Fine” can be a confusing word. I remember when our girls were teenagers and occasionally they’d asked us, “How do you like my outfit?” If we said, “It looks fine,” they would immediately retreat to their bedroom with a look of disappointment on their face and a slightly pronounced closing of the bedroom door in their wake. Saying “It’s fine” was definitely not the right answer.

The answer “Fine” might mean, “It’s just okay,” or maybe, “I’m too busy to invest in a longer answer.” It can also be assumed that the person asking the question just won’t “get it” anyway. Maybe it feels like they don’t understand how hard you’ve worked, the difficulties you face, the cross-cultural differences, or your personal limitations; and you may even fear they will judge you if you open up and say it like it is.

ABWE Central & Eastern Europe and Mediterranean (CEEMed) Regional Conference

We just returned from a ministry trip to Malta, where we were invited to serve at a Regional Conference for ABWE missionaries serving in Central and Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean region, and surrounding areas. What an amazing place! Malta is an island in the Mediterranean between Sicily and the North African coast. While only 17 miles long and 9 miles wide, it’s incredibly rich in history and biblical significance.  Acts 27-28 provides the incredible story of how the Apostle Paul, while en route to Rome, experienced a shipwreck. He and 275 other passengers swam for their lives until they reached the shores of Malta. It was awesome to be at the very place where Paul once ministered and brought the Gospel to this part of the world. What a joy to realize, that even today, we are part of the same ongoing mission!

One of the goals for our time at the conference was just to be a fellow missionary sojourner who, with patience and understanding, revealed we truly cared. Whether we completely understood or not, we went to hear their stories. And even if our paths are slightly different, our experiences seemed much the same.  We pray that we were good listeners and brought encouragement in line with the conference theme, “Serving Through Shipwreck and Storm.”

Tom had the opportunity to present a devotional to the regional leaders at their pre-conference meetings, as well as speak with the men at the conference on the topic of Leading Through Your Identity. Nancy spoke with the ladies on the difference between groaning and grumbling and how it potentially shipwrecks our witness and relationship with God. Tom also led a session on sexual integrity and pornography, and together, we taught a session on Balancing Marriage and Ministry, which is often a difficult task.

Grateful for Ministry Partners Who “Get it”

We also had the gift of spending meaningful times with a supporting pastor and his wife, Pastor Craig and Kathy Miller. These were precious times of fellowship with our mentors and friends who really do “get it.” After the conference, we spent a couple of days with fellow missionaries, Kelly and Sherri Fath.  Kelly is the Regional Director for CEEMed and has the same “job” Tom has in Southern Africa. Our days were filled with lots of collaborative questions, such as, “How do you do this? How do you handle that?” And statements like, “I struggle with… Pray with me about…” There are 14 Regional Directors scattered around the ABWE world.  It was so much more than “fine” to have this special time with people who actually do “get it”. It was very encouraging!  Like any truly meaningful collaboration, it required vulnerability, authenticity, and quantity time which led to quality time. In many ways, it was a huge investment. However, that’s what it takes to get beyond “fine” to “I get it.”  We returned home to South Africa this week uplifted and ready to apply what we learned.

Thank you for your continued support and prayers for the ministries God has prepared for us. May He continue to bless you in your part of His vineyard!

My Mom on Mission

I (Nancy) am sitting back at my desk in Cape Town after just having returned from nearly a month in the states.  Tom and I planned the trip months ago, but I believe God planned the journey in eternity past.  We came to America planning to meet our 8th grandchild and Tom planned to attend some ABWE meetings and participate in a Commission Service for one of our new missionaries. However, God planned for us to celebrate the life of my mother, Juanita Price, and He organized these other events to make a way for us to be there when she passed from this life to her home in heaven on the 7thof September, just days after we arrived in the states. “Thank you, Lord.”

So, if you’ll allow me, this blog is a bit of a raw reflection as I process memories of my mother’s life and how her faith and example have impacted me.

Her Story

My mother was born in Gallipolis, Ohio in 1933 where she lived with her parents as the youngest of three children on a small farm. She attended a little Baptist church in the country where she came to know Jesus as her Savior and was baptized in the river nearby.

As a teenager, her father died unexpectedly and she and her mother moved to the “big city” of Columbus. After graduating from high school, she married Wayne Price. They raised four daughters, of which I am the youngest, and lived a simple life by faith.  My dad worked for nearly 40 years at the GM plant and my mom was a school secretary.  We didn’t always have extra, but we always had enough.

As my family gathered around my mom in her final days we spoke about the things we remembered most about mom.  Words like servant, giving, faithful, and most of all prayer warrior, were present in almost every conversation.

My Story

I think I lived out my role as the “surprise” baby of the family, being a “handful” (her words, not mine!) in just about every way. Eventually I settled down, married my high school sweetheart, Tom, and we lived close to my parents for the first 20 years of our marriage.  Tom and I had four daughters of our own, representing half of my parents’ grandchildren, and much to everyone’s surprise, including our own, God called us mid-career to serve Him as missionaries in South Africa. I remember so well the day we told my mom and dad what we believed God wanted us to do. My dad shed tears, of course, he always did! But my mom was sooooo excited!  Not the reaction I expected.

After a week or so, I was sure that she just didn’t “get it,” and I remember telling Tom, “I think my mom is in denial. Do you think she understands we are moving halfway around the world and we are taking her grandchildren with us?” And so I went back to my parents’ house to talk to my mom about her exuberant response to this life-changing decision.  And this is what she said…

“Nancy, when I was saved as a child I began to pray every day that God would make me a missionary. Then I grew up, got married, and had you four girls and I realized that it wasn’t His plan for me. So I changed my prayers and asked that He would make one of you girls a missionary.  When you all got married, had children, and had your lives and careers established I felt like God had answered my prayers by saying no. So the day you came to tell us that God had called you and your family to the mission field, it was the answer to a lifetime of my prayers.  How can I be anything less than happy?”

That’s when I realized, my mom got it – so much more than I ever realized. She understood from a very young age that the life of a follower of Christ was to both go and send, whatever the cost. Jesus was always her example.

His Story

Jesus willingly left heaven to come to earth and die on the cross to ransom sinners.  And in John 17:18, when Jesus prayed to the Father about His disciples He said, “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”

Over the years I watched my mom be a light wherever God placed her, including the assisted living home where she lived the last two years of her life.  I remember when she’d just moved in and I called to see how she was getting along.  I asked if she’d made any friends yet and her response was this, “Yes, I’ve met everyone on my floor and I don’t think any of them are saved, so I’ve called the Pastor’s wife and asked her to help me start a Bible study.” (This at the age of 82!)

As we prepared the video we showed at mom’s celebration of life service, the absence of my own family in the last 18 years of photos was evidence of the sacrifice my mother joyfully made while fulfilling her role as a sender. Her encouraging words and faithful prayers for us will be greatly missed, but her legacy of faithfulness to God and her children will be remembered and will last forever.

My mom’s enthusiasm for her Lord and His mission never failed. And I want to be just like her.

Podcast: Racial Reconciliation and Multiethnic Church Planting in South Africa

Greetings Wolfpack Partners! My name is Alex Kocman, and I serve as Director of Long-Term Mobilization for ABWE International in Harrisburg, PA.  One of my roles is to help communicate what God is doing around the world and guide new missionaries into cross-cultural ministry. Our VP Scott Dunford and I host The Missions Podcast to bridge the gap between the worlds of biblical, big-God theology and practical missions strategy. Each Monday, we dive into questions of contextualization, the local church, strategy, the implications of biblical theology, and best practices for senders and goers alike. Our goal is to turn thinkers into goers and help goers slow down and think.

This week, ABWE Church Planter and Regional Director for Southern Africa, Tom Wolf, joins us to discuss the uniqueness’s of racial reconciliation and multiethnic church planting in South Africa. With Apartheid a mere 20+ years in South Africa’s rearview, ethnic tensions still threaten to divide the church.

As a partner of the Wolfs, we invite you to listen in to this insightful interview, as Tom, an 18-year veteran of church planting missions to South Africa, shares some simple strategies their team has used in bridging racial divides—even when it’s been costly. It goes without saying that the concerns and dynamics of racial reconciliation in any country are vast and complex. This 30-minute podcast cannot address every facet of the current concerns related to racial reconciliation in South Africa, nor does it try to. It briefly touches on the topic and is aimed at getting us to think about what God is doing in this part of the world.

You can listen online by clicking here or on your favorite Podcast App. And as time allows please share your thoughts on this episode, rate the show, and leave a review in your favorite listening platform. We’d also love for you to become a follower of ABWE’s weekly Podcast.

https://missionspodcast.com/podcast/racial-reconciliation-and-multiethnic-church-planting-in-south-africa/

 

When Generations Converge

In South Africa there are two sightseeing locations that we enjoy taking people to, Cape Agulhas and the Cape of Good Hope. Both are beautiful and each site advertises that it’s “where the two oceans meet,” referring to the Indian and Atlantic Oceans.  Although they use differing explanations to convince the traveler how their location is where the oceans actually meet, truthfully, there is no “line” where the waters come together.  Officially, Cape Agulhas, the most southern tip of Africa, is the where we like to think the waters converge.So I ask you, where do the generations of leaders meet and where does the convergence of leadership from one generation to another occur? Is there a line, an official place and time where this happens, like when Moses stepped down and Joshua stepped up?  Do degrees, apprenticeships or official internships prepare a younger person to take the helm? Or is there a place and are there times where the gradual blending of lives, leadership skills, and the sharing of lessons learned bleeds from one to the other allowing authentic mentoring to occur, preparing the next generation to lead?

We’d like to think that the issue is not where or the how leadership is transferred to the next generation, but whether we are intentionally making sure that it occurs.  Mentoring doesn’t “just happen” – it has to be sought, given and received. That’s why this past week Nancy and I left the shores where the two oceans meet to join the team at the 2018 Next Generation Leaders Conference (NGLC) in Philadelphia. It was there that we spent the week discussing the importance of Prayer and the Psalms in the life of a leader. In addition to Tom speaking at one of the sessions, within the larger group (80+ participants) we personally mentored the most amazing young leaders and had the privilege of spending time learning, sharing and praying together.  Our desire was to pour into their lives, but in truth, we left refreshed and filled by the teaching, as well as the wisdom and passion we saw in these younger leaders seeking to influence others within their communities.

The conference participants came from 25 countries and represented 45 different organizations. For us, the NGLC was a little like the ocean currents bringing each of us from the ends of the earth, blending us together, and then sending us back out, ready, challenged, and rejuvenated to lead in the places where we serve. It was a highly influential week for all of us.

We would like to those thank those who contributed and made our attendance, as well as the attendees we sponsored, possible.  Yours was an investment, not only in our lives, but in the future ministry of many leaders who are now dispersed by Jesus to continue His mission to make disciples and reach the nations.

7 Things Most People Don’t Know About South Africa

#1: It’s A Really Big Rainbow

 

Did you know there are 56 million people living in South Africa? That’s more than Australia and almost as many as the entire United Kingdom. Do you know why Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace prize-winner, was the first to call South Africa the Rainbow Nation? That name was given to RSA because of the diverse people, cultures and languages. It’s a place like none other in the world.  When you come – you’ll love the interactions!

#2: Crazy People Do It

Did you know South Africa lays claim to the highest commercial bridge bungee jump in the world? Yep, been there and didn’t jump, but I took Pastor Dave Drullinger once and he did jump. The bridge is located along the seacoast area called the Garden Route. It’s 216 metres (over 700 feet high) above the Bloukrans River and when you decide to take the plunge you’ll sign a serious waiver before your adrenaline spikes off the charts. When you come, you can jump… and I’ll pray.

#3: There Are Lots of Happy Feet

This one might surprise you… What’s black and white, very cute, can swim, has a large head, short neck, an elongated body, and lives in South Africa? You got it, penguins. Even though we live in a sunny and warm climate, we have two large colonies of African penguins within an easy drive from our home. When you come, you can even swim with these little guys!

#4: The Heart Matters

The world’s first heart transplant was done in Cape Town, South Africa at the Groote Schuur Hospital by surgeon Christiaan Barnard in 1967. The operation was an astonishing event, which pushed the boundaries of science and was considered a success because the patient’s body did not rejected the heart, although Louis Washkansky died 18 days later from double pneumonia. When you come you can tour The Heart of Cape Town Museumand see the theater where the transplant was done.

#5: It’s All Greek To Me

Most pastors know a little Hebrew and Greek, but did you know that South Africa has 11 official languages; Afrikaans, English, Zulu, Xhosa, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana and Venda. The most frequently spoken language is Zulu, followed by Xhosa, as the two largest tribes in the country speak them. English, however, is considered to be the main language and is widely spoken throughout the country by most people. When you come, not to worry, people will understand you and you’ll cope just fine – I do!

#6: I Just Wanna Ride

In America there is the famous Route 66. In South Africa there is a similar travel experience called Route 62. It’s a stretch of road that meanders 850 kilometers (over 500 miles) through spectacular countryside. Route 62 is the longest wine route in the worldand is a stunning scenic route that stretches from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth. There are lots of ways to see Route 62, but when you come, we can do it the best way – on a motorcycle!

#7: You’re Wanted

Remember the famous poster of Uncle Sam pointing straight ahead with his nubby finger and the caption, “I want you.” Well, we want you, too. We need you. Nancy and I have the joy of celebrating our 20-year ministry anniversary this year, as we committed our lives to world missions in 1998. Since that time we’ve had the joy of planting churches and most recently taking on the big task of leading the region of Southern Africa for ABWE International. Do you have a heart for missions? Does Africa interest you? What role do you want to play… a sender, goer, supporter, and partner? Would you consider joining us short term or even exploring long-term missions? As a partner and supporter of the Wolfpack, would you pray and consider coming?

What’s Next?

Okay, the first six things on this list are pretty cool and informative, but number seven is where it’s at! What can you do for now? Write us at twolf@abwe.org to share your interest and we’ll be in touch. We’ll also add you to a special mailing list to receive more information in the future. Or, be sure to follow us through www.onerwe.com and be watching for our mobilization posts on social media like Facebook and Instagram.

The Riots Have CEASED – The CELEBRATION of Easter is On

Nancy and I would like to send you an Easter greeting and also update you on the unrest and riots that have been happening in our community this week. Thank you for praying! Many have written and our blog site spiked with the high number of visitors reading about the situation. Here is a brief update and a request for continued prayers.

The Riots Have Ceased…Praise God

Praise God, the riots have ceased, for now. Hermanus, the town where we live and are planting a church, has been gripped by protests that started late last week. It all came to a head on Monday as protests and riots broke out mostly in the township of Zwelihle. The demonstrations were devastating in many ways; a satellite police station was burned down, a library gutted, shops and home were looted.  As a result, many people had to abandon their homes and find temporary shelter.  The standoff was over a group of people who took up occupancy on vacant land that apparently belonged to the government (here it’s called a land grab). They marked out plots for themselves and then marched to the municipal manager’s office demanding utilities such as water and electricity.

How were we impacted? Although we’ve been safe, we have several families in our church who have not been. The school that we rent for our church services borders the township of Zwelihle and is close to where the unrest was located. As a result, their safety was at risk and many had to abandon their homes and move in with some of our church families for several days.

The good news is that after community meetings were held there seems to be peace, some kind of consensus reached, and order has returned to our community. The Mall, shops and restaurants and businesses are back in operation. We are grateful that our families were able to return home and resume work.

South Africa Has Made Progress, But…

Living through situations like this breaks our hearts – to see the fear and to feel the helplessness. In South Africa, years have passed since Apartheid was abolished (1994) and yet the remnants still exist. Thousands of people have been severely impacted and have suffered this week. I have mentally tried to put myself in the shoes of those forced to leave their homes, who feared for their children and worried about their belongings being stolen or burned. When they returned to their homes, they were uncertain what they would find. The good news is that none of our families suffered loss.

The other side of me looks at this situation and sees it as an amazing time for the church to shine. It’s an opportunity to be the light in the darkness and a people who don’t just talk about caring, but who give shelter and feed those in need. Some of the people in our church already had houseguests for the Easter holiday, but they still scattered mattresses and blankets were placed in every corner of their homes.

We had the joy of helping Wade and Tara lead the charge for our church, and to watch them was to see them in their element.  A very generous financial gift came in that paid for most of the food that was served this week. Nancy and I were able to have all four of our grandkids bunked in my study as their rooms were used for others. They thought the idea of a slumber party with Papaw and Nana was pretty cool. And it was, that is, until little Maeve came to me early on Wednesday morning with some brown stuff all over her hands and a very stinky nappy (diaper). Not so cool!

Good Friday & Easter Services

Our focus now turns toward a Good Friday remembrance and Easter celebration services. I am excited for our little church to gather and rejoice over all God has done for us. I am excited to see if some of the people that were cared for this week will join us for church.

I am excited that my message for Easter Sunday is done and how God led me to redo what I had prepared, and instead bring a simple gospel message… a heartfelt expression of our need to personalize the Easter story. When you have weeks like this one, it’s a good reminder that the greatest need we each have is not shelter and protection (even though we long for that), but our greatest need is Jesus and His gift of salvation.

How Can You Continue To Pray?

As we pray for you, would you pray for our weekend of services at Mountain View, and for the message of why having a relationship with Jesus matters?  Also, pray that the peace we are experiencing today will continue and the riots will not return. Nancy and I would also like to say, thank you! Thank you for caring and interceding for the events of the week. Have a wonderful and blessed Easter celebration!