Sunday, February 7, 2016

What I’d Give: Assets and Allies

Since mid-December I’ve been deeply involved in helping launch a redistricting reform coalition, Fair Districts PA. I spent the first days of the year structuring a website ( and have been working with others to assemble assets and allies for the challenge of promoting constitutional change in the way Pennsylvania creates electoral districts.

Much of the work involves seeing what’s needed (petition site? Html experience?) and finding someone who can offer it. But an interesting surprise has been dealing with unsolicited offers, unexpected allies, support from unexpected angles.

I’ve been posting this Epiphany about what I’d give others if I could: essential gifts that aren’t mine to give. Awareness and experience of God’s abiding love, foundational faith, resolute hope, wonder, awe, wisdom.

Assets and allies are also on that list: resources for the life we’ve been called to, companions in the challenge of living as agents of God’s kingdom here on earth.

I’ve been struck lately by the apparent irrelevant add-ons at the ends of many of Paul’s epistles: Tychichus will tell you everything; (Galatians 6:21); I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent (Ephesians 4:18); our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings (Colossians 4:14); Erastus stayed in Corinth, and I left Trophimus sick in Miletus. (2 Timothy 4:19).

In an unexpected way, those bits of personal detail at the ends of Paul's letters remind me of coalition building: L. will help with the proofreading on that. K.’s mom is sick; she’ll check back in later. The folks at RDP will be in touch.  S. says thanks and is looking into funding.

Paul was on a mission, was building a coalition, and was using the tools at hand to manage the resources and relationships he’d been given.

I pause on that word: given. Some might say he went out and found them, built them, earned them.

I’d say given.

In my own experience, there have been times when I’ve been called into challenging tasks, doubted my own ability, felt overwhelmed by the heavy lift, and seen God supply in amazing ways.

China Inland Mission founder Hudson Taylor has been often quoted: “God’s work, done God’s way, will never lack God’s supplies.”
That supply is rarely a check in the mail, although there are some great stories of exact amounts arriving at exactly the right moment.

More often the supply is not quite what we expected, from avenues we might have overlooked.

And sadly, all too often, the supply is missed: because we’re too proud to ask or receive it, because we don’t like the one who offers, because we’ve framed things so neatly in our own five-year plans we can’t adjust timing or see what’s being given.

I’ve done that: run right past people offering help that didn’t quite fit my idea. Stepped on and squashed resources that didn’t line up with the vision in my head.

I’ve learned the hard way: I run myself right into a wall trying to do it myself.

Or I can stop, sit, listen, wait, and see what God has in mind.

The first summer I led a youth mission trip in Kensington I came very close to crashing: the structure was unsustainable, the plan exhausting beyond belief. I picked up a terrible case of poison ivy midweek. My one thought, through much of the week, was “never again. Never never again.”

I’d been warned the mission model wasn’t workable. I’d inherited it from a predecessor, with the hazy suggestion I live through one week then find a way to shut the project down.

But mid-week, strung out on steroids for the poison ivy, struggling to get by on an hour or two of sleep each night, I started praying to see what God had in mind. Asked the team to join me in that prayer. And began to see something totally different: a model that would work with the tools and context we’d been given.

Good fruit came from that difficult week, not least a much deeper understanding that God’s work done in our own pre-patterned way is often doomed to failure.

In the decade of summers that followed, I’d often start the week of mission with the story of King Jehoshaphat, from 2 Chronicles 20: a vast army assembles against God’s people. Jehoshaphat calls the people to prayer and sets the problem before God: 
Lord, the God of our ancestors, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you. . . .[W]e have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you. . . .” Then the Spirit of the Lord came on Jahaziel son of Zechariah, the son of Benaiah, the son of Jeiel, the son of Mattaniah, a Levite and descendant of Asaph, as he stood in the assembly. 
That’s the part I always paused on: Jahaziel was nobody. He wasn’t the leader, the high priest, the appointed spokesman. Just a guy in the crowd. But God chose to speak through him, and because King Jehoshaphat was willing to wait, and listen, because Jahaziel was courageous enough to offer what he was given to say, the enemy was defeated.

My challenge to our team: we have all the wisdom and ability we need. But we’ll need to wait and listen, and be brave enough to say what we see, or do what we’re asked. Even if it feels a little scary.

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.  7. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 
We hear maybe too much about verse 7 – cheerful givers – and not enough about verse 8: God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

Most of the time most of the church doesn’t exactly live that way.

We haggle over who gets what, guard our turf, worry about the shortfall.

We ignore gifts that don’t meet our guidelines, reject unexpected assets that don't fit overly-corporate spreadsheets.

I say “we.” That’s not exactly accurate. I’ve been on the other side of that equation more often than not: told the gifts I’m offering don’t exist, because “God doesn’t give those gifts to women.” Gently ushered out the door because I don’t match the ministry model the leaders had in mind.

And I’ve watched with great sadness when wonderful offerings from others are discounted: because the offerers are too young, too old, too “odd.” Their accents aren’t quite right. Their ideas are a little different.

Praying and puzzling over this I came across a post by Reverend Dr. Eric Foley, cofounder of Voice of the Martyrs Korea:  
I suspect one of the grave ways we impoverish ourselves as missionaries and nonprofit ministry organizations is that our engines run only on cash; every other kind of gift (and here I’m not talking only about gifts-in-kind but people, especially the various and sundry kind, offering themselves as if they were treasure–the audacity!) just seems to choke the motor. Taylor’s promise was not that God’s work, done God’s way, will never lack for our supply. Rather, his contention was that God would supply as a good Father giving good gifts to His children. Kids always want cash, but sometimes parents know that other gifts are far more needed by their children.    
I have seen audacious gifts offered and rejected. 

But I’ve also, by God’s grace, seen audacious gifts put to good use, seen God’s kingdom made visible through unexpected means.

I’ve had the blessing of seeing God work through unorthodox teams, creative coalitions, accomplishing far more than I could have asked or imagined, stretching scant dollars to supply surprising outcomes

Assets and allies are not mine to give, although I’m happy to offer what resources I have, and give my support in whatever ways I can.
From The Life of Christ, James Reed, 1930

In truth, assets and allies have already been given, all around us, more than we could ever need, more than we will ever know.

What I’d give if I could is the willingness to see them. The openness to embrace unexpected allies, unusual assets.

The willingness to offer what we have, even after we’ve been shut down, shut out. Again, and again.

The willingness to offer our bread and fish, our untamed donkeys, our strange ideas, our seemingly slim assets.

What I’d give is the ability to hold our own plans lightly, to wait and give with open hands.

To lean in close to the one who 
is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. . . . Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness.  You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

During this Epiphany season (from the beginning of January until the beginning of Lent on Ash Wednesday, February 10) I’ve been blogging about those things I would give if I could. This is the last in that series. 
January 3: What I'd Give You
January 10: What I’d Give: Living into Love 
January 17: What I’d Give: Foundational Faith  
January 24: What I’d Give: Resolute Hope 
January 31: What I’d Give: Wonder, Awe, Wisdom