[shoulders] SHOULDER TO SHOULDER #297 ---- 8/18/03

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From: "Bob Tolliver" <btolliver@...>
Date: Mon, 18 Aug 2003 11:09:51 +0300
Standing Shoulder To Shoulder Together As We
Fight the Good Fight of Faith

A personal letter of encouragement to You, written solely to "lift up hands that hang down".

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SHOULDER TO SHOULDER #297 ---- 8/18/03

Title:  "When Your Ministry is Fulfilling"

My Dear Friend and Partner in Kingdom Adventures:

Greetings again from beautiful and mystifying Kiev, Ukraine.  I rejoice today in God's goodness, and pray that you are doing the same.  Sometimes that doesn't come easy.  When that is the case, I remember the statement by the late Elvis Marcum ---- "Rejoice By Choice!"  So, whether your week was good or bad, I hope you've chosen today to rejoice in the Lord.


1.  I mentioned last letter about our "under construction" website which you can now visit.  While it doesn't describe our total ministry, it does give you a brief glimpse into my role as pastor of the International Church in Kiev, and it lets you get a picture of this great city.  You can even take a virtual prayer walk if you like.  So, feel free to visit.  It will be several weeks before it is complete, but at least it's a beginning.  As a result of the efforts from a good friend, Lewis, we're also beginning work on a sister website that will cover more areas of our ministry.

2.  This week we are saying "good-bye" to Ricky and Marina McCreight as they leave Wednesday for America.  It is their intent and hope that they will return to join us again in ministry next Spring.  In the meantime, we'll miss them terribly.  Jo Ann and I have had few church members who so completely immersed themselves on a volunteer basis into the work of the Lord.  From the very first Sunday they visited the International Church a little over a year ago, they have faithfully assumed many responsibilities.  Their departure leaves a hole in our English program, our Bible study ministry, our worship leadership team, and our youth ministry.  They did the work of three or four couples, and thrived in every moment of it.  I hope you'll covenant with me to pray for them as they go through this transition time; pray that God will indeed return them to us.  And, pray for us as we try to regroup and restructure to compensate for their departure.

3.  Our August emphasis on prayer and fasting is about half through, and we can certainly see the difference.  There is a clear sense of expectancy in the air.  Our services are more alive and people are more responsive.  New faces are seen in virtually every service.  God is going to honor this act of faith on the part of the church.  Several subscribers have asked for copies of the material we're using, and I'm happy to send it to anyone who requests it.  It isn't complicated; we're just focusing on prayer and fasting for 35 days, with a different theme for each week.  But, I'm happy to share it freely.

4.  A fellow missionary made the following remarks about last week's letter on "the smells of ministry".  

"Your letter on smells was one that I could appreciate. We attend the [church] here in Bucharest and a Romanian Church in the evenings when we are not called to other Romanian churches. Last Sunday at [church] a lady that often comes off the street and looks and smells terrible returned and took a seat in the middle of the church. Most of the people ignored her and sat away from her. 

"When it came time for our prayer groups she decided that she needed to go. I took her to the exit as she almost incoherently described her many concerns. As I have done on other occasions, I insisted that she allow me to pray for her. As I placed my hand on her shoulder and prayed, I could all but taste the odor; but as with you, God has helped me to count each encounter a blessed opportunity to share His love. 

"In my worldly wisdom I didn't hug her, but did wonder how long it had been since someone had allowed her to feel the warmth of a loving embrace. I doubt that she can remember. No wonder they become hopeless. 

"She left feeling a little more loved and telling me what a good Christian man I am, but not realizing that she was heaping conviction upon me for not knowing how to change her circumstances. We have tried to help so many and discovered that unless you have a funded humanitarian agency it does not help them.  We only end up supporting them monetarily. However, we try not to miss a chance to share the love of Christ with them."  ---- Floyd

I've come to the conclusion that, tragically, we have allowed cultural and societal issues to become far too personally repulsive.  In embracing that idea, we have missed literally hundreds of opportunities to touch lives and hearts at their most vulnerable moments when our message would have been the most readily received.

Years ago my father told the story of a young man, wandering the streets and without a home, who heard the beautiful music of the Gospel coming from an inviting church building.  It was a cold rainy night, so he eagerly looked forward for the opportunity to slip into a back row to be warmed, to enjoy the soothing music, and perhaps hear some word of encouragement.

As he slipped through the doors into the foyer, his dirty clothes soaked and his long hair dangling down his shoulders, he was met by a man who told him that derelicts and bums could not attend the services, but would have to wait until the soup kitchen opened the next day.

Overwhelmed by his heavy burdens of the heart, and deeply disappointed by this latest rejection, he sat down on the curb with his feet in the gutter.  With his hands over his face in despair, he began to weep.

Soon another long-haired man dressed in unacceptable attire walked by, stopped, and then came and sat beside him on the curb.

"Can I help you, son?  What's your name?"

"I'm James, but you can't help.  I just wanted to go inside that church to get warm and enjoy the beautiful music, but they wouldn't let me in.  I'm not their kind, I guess."

"I know how you feel, James.  I've been trying to get into that church for years, and they won't let me in either."

"Really?  Why?  What's your name?"



Yesterday evening, after a very full day that began with a brief 9:30 a.m. appointment and then progressed through lunch, Bible study, worship services, farewell fellowship, and on through the evening, Jo Ann and I finally took a break at a local sidewalk coffee shop outside our apartment building about 8:00 that night.  We had finished supper with some friends and had walked a half mile down the street to pick up a few groceries for the week, and stopped to have a little "Amerikanski koffe with hot moleko".

As we chatted over the din of Chernovoarmis'ka's (Red Army Street) Sunday evening traffic, the American music coming out of the nearby bar's radio, and the small talk of local patrons, I found myself beginning to wind down a bit and feel a strong sense of satisfied fulfillment.  That old statement, "God's in His heaven, and all is right with the world" came to mind.  That's how I felt.

And, . . . you know me, . . . . I found myself saying, "I should write about that for my 'Shoulders' letter."

So, I am.

And, here are my observations.

Why is it that you and I can one week have a sense of discouragement and exasperation over our ministry, and another week feel as if we're in heaven's shining glory?  Why do we feel one way for one week, and the other way just a few days (or even hours) later?  

Maybe that doesn't intrigue you, but it does me.  Why the frequent oscillation?  Why are we up one day and down the next?  I'm not sure, but . . . .

It seems to me that, somewhere along the way, we've adopted an erroneous method of determining when something is good and when it is not so good.  In the process we have syncretized a couple of separate words . . . . success and fulfillment.  Because we have done so, we have concluded they are one in the same.  Consequently, we now assume that to be fulfilled is the same as being successful, and that if we are not successful, we are not fulfilled.

This, of course, opens up a whole world of debate and discussion about success, purpose, meaning, etc.  Let's save that for another time.

As I look back through my years of ministry, I can remember many moments when my choirs absolutely outdid themselves in performance, when I preached one of my best sermons, when I stood before thousands to sing or preach, . . . . when, by all earthly standards, I was a total success.

But I often left those places knowing I didn't feel fulfilled in the least.

There have been other occasions when I left a council meeting, a witnessing opportunity, or a preaching engagement at a conference, knowing full well that I had not been successful.  Yet, strangely enough, . . . I still felt fulfilled.

So, it seems obvious to me that the two are not one in the same.

Maybe you face that same scenario at times . . . . you go home from church knowing that everything was good, and that it was all successful, but when you shut the door to your home and take off your shoes and tie, that empty feeling in your soul is still there.  The joy was short-lived, and you are already beginning to dread the process of doing it all over again this week.

Strange thoughts begin to creep into your mind.  The voices of both the Flesh and Satan seem to drown out the quiet voice of the Spirit trying to tell you that everything is alright, and God is still present.  Those voices tell you that you didn't do it well enough, that others are already criticizing you, that you're not worthy enough to be blessed and happy, and that you really shouldn't even be doing this because you're not good enough, that you're just too exhausted or burned out to keep this up much longer.

You'll never know how many Sunday nights I tried to drown those voices out by isolating myself away from my wife and little girls and by trying to soothe my troubled mind with the stereo blaring out the William Tell Overture or some other classical piece.  I felt neither fulfilled or successful.  And I didn't even know the difference . . . . or that I was even wanting to feel either of them.  All I knew was that I felt like I had failed, . . . . and I felt empty.


You understand, of course, that I'm just sharing my heart.  I'm neither a psychologist or a theolog; I'm just an ordinary man who has made more than his share of mistakes, and has taken a very long time to grow up enough to begin to understand at least a few things of the Lord.  So, these indicators of fulfillment may not necessarily fit your personal experience.  But, for what it's worth, . . . .

1.  Fulfillment and success are not the same.  I can be successful and not be fulfilled.  That's obvious to everyone, but sometimes we forget.

However, when I feel fulfilled, being successful doesn't matter.  I can tell you from personal experience that feeling fulfilled is much more satisfying than feeling successful.  It lasts longer.

2.  The reason for that is because success and fulfillment are measured by two differing standards.  Success is usually measured by numbers, statistics, and accomplishments . . . . things that pertain primarily to events and plans.  Fulfillment, on the other hand, is measured by internal things . . . . things like satisfaction, contentment, peace, confidence, and so forth.  Success demands to hear, "that was great!"  Fulfillment is satisfied with, "This is good."  Fulfillment's emphasis is on "this" instead of "that", and it is content with the inner voice, and it cares little about the external accolades.

3.  One ingredient of fulfillment seems to me to be satisfaction and/or contentment. . . . satisfaction that you did what was right, and contentment with where things are right now.  It's not measured by outcome, but rather by an awareness that you did what was needed.

4.  This leads to another ingredient of fulfillment, and that is the confidence that you were obedient to the Lord.  Performance and obedience are not always the same.  It's not so much how well you do, but rather that you simply obeyed.  Obedience cannot be measured statistically.  Some of the most rebellious and disobedient preachers I've heard were able to camouflage that fact with huge numbers of so-called conversions.  (Seems like I remember that David, Paul, and even Jesus all talked about that.)

5.  When one has experienced fulfillment, it will be evidenced by a quiet spirit.  Satisfaction and contentment let you sit back in your emotional easy chair, prop your feet up on the faithfulness of God, and enjoy inner peace and quiet.  You can even bask in the light of the Son, and do it with a smile on your face.

6.  Also, I think there is the awareness that you did what needed to be done at the moment.  The work may not be finished, but you can go to bed at night knowing you did what the order of the day had called for.  I remember watching my grandfather come in from the fields after a day of back breaking work and sit back in the lawn chair.  Puffing on his pipe, I could almost hear him saying to himself, "The work's not done, but I did what needed to be done today.  Tomorrow will come . . . . tomorrow."  Even in the middle of harvest time with fields all around him waiting for the combine, he was satisfied only with knowing he did what was needed at the moment.

7.  When you're done, you can honestly say, "That's good!" without feeling proud or arrogant.  The reason you can do so is because you know you're just repeating what God has said to your spirit.  He has said, "That's good!", and, with a smile, you can whisper back, "That's good."

And God replies softly, "Yeah.  Now, that Is good."  And He smiles back. . . . and lets you bask . . . . and rest . . . .


The next day, my friend, you're ready to wake up with joy in your heart, excited for a new opportunity to follow Jesus on His journey down the pathways of ministry He will take.  You have no burdensome worries of yesterday's failures, because you didn't fail.  The reason you didn't fail is because you chose not to be successful, but simply obedient.  

You chose not to measure yesterday's work by statistics and accomplishments, but rather by simply joining Jesus in what He was doing.  You chose something more than Partnership with God; you chose Companionship with Him, . . . . and that made yesterday's journey a joy.  Tending the Garden for Adam and Eve didn't become burdensome until they did it without God's presence.  Things haven't changed.

So, today will be the same.  When it ends for you in a few hours, you'll know how you spent the day.  You'll know because of how you feel . . . . whether you're bearing the load of success or failure, or whether you're still walking with a spring in your step because you feel fulfilled.

When you feel fulfilled, you find yourself thinking, "Hey . . . . I can do that again! . . . . and again! . . . . and . . . .!"

So, dear friend, . . . .

I'm up for the day.  I think it will be a good one.

I hope yours is, too.  I hope that, when night comes, you'll be able to sit back, prop up your feet, clasp your hands behind your head, smile, and say, . . . .

"That was good!  I'm filled . . . . full!"

If you listen closely, you'll probably hear God say, "Yeah! . . . "

(Be sure to listen.)

In His Bond and For His Kingdom,

Bob Tolliver -- Psalm 2:8
Copyright August, 2003
Life Unlimited Ministries

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