How I threw my life away

What's really important in life?

"I'm going to be a missionary"

She was blond. She was cute. And I was a bit sweet on her. We didn't know each other very well. I had just moved to town the summer before.

I was pushing hard for a 4.0 senior year. I was a National Merit Scholarship finalist, somewhat of an anomaly in Guthrie, Oklahoma. Looking back now, I wonder if the little blonde welcomed my attention because she hoped I would be able to help improve her grade point.

One day, we were standing in the hall between classes, leaning against a row of student lockers. She looked at me, batted those long eyelashes, and asked me what I planned to do with my life.

"I'm going to be a missionary," I said.

A look of horror crossed her face. "Oh, Howard," she groaned, "don't throw your life away."

It stunned me. The two of us were evidently marching to the beat of different drummers. That day, our paths began to separate. We were looking for different things in life.

Measuring success

There's some evidence, of course, that little blonde was right. Sadly, in measuring success, those in the world and those in the church sometimes use strikingly similar yardsticks:

By such standard gauges of success, I've fallen short. Measured by these scales, I've wasted some natural abilities. Some might even say that I've thrown my life away.

Remember those charts high school counselors showed us proving how much more we would earn over a lifetime if we finished college? They showed even more income for a master's degree. For a doctorate, it was really impressive. Notwithstanding, our family's annual base salary doesn't rank us very high on secular society's success charts.

Some church people, of course, put us up on a pedestal. I occasionally meet some dear saint who wants to "touch the missionary." Still, a lot of Christians consider us missionaries to be dated, stodgy, and out-of-touch. Perhaps with good reason. When we showed up back in the USA on home assignment, I only had one or two suits. The shoes I wore one year were one size too large. I couldn't return them to a store to exchange them because someone had given them to me rather than take them to Goodwill.

We were often blissfully unaware of the latest American fads and fashions. We didn't know the names of the hottest screen stars. We probably hadn't read the latest best-seller . . . at least in English. Many of the things that matter to us seem to matter little to most monocultural, monolingual Americans. People were sometimes a little uncomfortable around us. It almost seemed like we had become foreigners in our homeland. We just didn't fit in.

Thrown my life away? It might seem so. Yet, I'm here today to tell you that I don't feel that way. If the Lord endowed me with particular talents and abilities, He did so for Kingdom reasons. He knew where He wanted me to use them in Kingdom business. That's what I've tried to do.

The most momentous enterprise of all time

Over the years I've been bewildered by the conflicting signals and orders that can come from within an organization. I've been disturbed by injustices befalling others as well as myself. I've been discouraged at meager results in post-Christian Europe. When few in the homeland seemed to care, I felt very discouraged. Midst the poverty of Haiti, I've felt overwhelmed. But I've never had the feeling that I'd thrown my life away. Never. [ e-book on Haiti ]

Instead, I was often reassured that we were involved in the most momentous enterprise of all time: the completion of the task of world evangelism.

Now, what about you? What are you doing with the mix of gifts and talents God gave you? What are your priorities in the use of your God-given talents and abilities? God has given you creative intellectual gifts. The fact that you are a member of Phi Delta Lambda is evidence of that. Where are you investing those God-given abilities? Have you put them to work almost exclusively in your career, in seeking that elusive thing called success? Is your involvement in global evangelism basically a small monetary one, a kindly gesture, "give a little for a good cause"? Is world missions for you just one more good thing that Christians ought to be doing?

I hope you'll be different. I'd like to challenge you to apply the best you can offer to help carry out the Great Commission. Let the Holy Spirit help you begin seeing the world as God sees it. Kingdom work demands the best and the brightest. You're one of those. The Kingdom needs your help.

Down through the years, the world missions thrust has had some of the best minds involved in cross-cultural gospel witness. In the heyday of Jesuit missionary outreach some of the best minds in Europe went out as missionaries, men like Matteo Ricci and Ramon Lull.

Today, there are still about two billion people who are outside the gospel witness. That's an immense number. It need not, however, overwhelm us. Those two billion are in about 5,000 people groups yet to have a church planted in their midst. They live "where the church is not yet." To carry out the Great Commission, we need to establish a beachhead for the Gospel in those 5,000 people groups. Our own goal as Nazarene missionaries is that every person will soon be able to hear, understand, and receive the good news from a holiness group among his or her own people. [ more on the unreached ]

Unfortunately, our church has hit a plateau in missions giving and sending. By careful use of limited resources, we've been able to continue entering new countries. However, the number of global Nazarene missionaries has been stalled near 600 for several years. After adjustments for inflation, missions giving has not risen much in recent years. If we are to regain the momentum needed to carry out our divine mandate for spreading the message of scriptural holiness around the world, we will face some momentous problems that call for the best.

What can you do?

Let me plead with you today to apply yourself to solving problems of:

1. Prayer support
If you've been a Nazarene for a long time, you might remember the Prayer and Fasting League. In its heyday, it galvanized Nazarene prayer support for missions. I remember people giving up their lunch hour (and lunch!) on Fridays to gather at the church to pray. People gave twenty-five cents a week for missing a meal. With the passing years, Prayer and Fasting has dropped into misuse. Unfortunately, nothing new has arrived to replace it as the energizing force to motivate prayer support for world evangelism.

We've got to find a way to revitalize and inspire prayer support. All great missionary thrusts came from prayer. We need your creative work to start a new wave of prayer backing.
"Prayer warriors are a force to be reckoned with. . . . Prayer galvanizes us to action. . . . Prayer leads us to those who may commit toward the goal. . . . Prayer will lead us to those whom He has blessed to reap, sow, and provide these means." -- Michael B., Northwest Nazarene University graduate student
2. Missions Education.
Some say the most boring hour in Nazarene churches is the missionary service or even the global missions moments times. That's tragic. Zone rallies of groups of churches that used to attract great crowds to hear furloughed missionaries have fallen into disuse.

Why? Is it because you've abdicated your responsibility? I call on you to put your creative, intellectual abilities to work re-energizing missionary education in the local church.
3. Fundraising
The phrase missions budget sticks in people's craw. Budget is a terrible word. It's become almost synonymous with "taxes." "Paying budgets" became such a negative issue that the majority of delegates from affluent North America at a recent Nazarene General Assembly were asked to vote to lower the amounts asked from each local church.

I have a feeling Americans have misunderstood what God is trying to do. When He blesses us materially, it's not because we're such deserving people. He's trying to channel resources through us, use us as an irrigation ditch to get water of life to a thirsty, parched world. We've misunderstood and have dammed up that irrigation canal to make a lake!

We must find a way to help Nazarenes step out in willing sacrifice in order to contribute generously to both relief and evangelism.

Such highly successful ideas as the Alabaster offering, Prayer and Fasting, and Work and Witness did not originate from a paid staff person at a Global Ministry Center. They came from people like yourself. You must help us recover a balance between continuity and spontaneity in our missions giving.
4. Renounce secularism and materialism.
The syncretism we decry in other cultures is also undermining the foundations of American Christianity. People have mixed materialism and secularism together with Christianity in a frightful manner. One of the more obvious manifestations is the God-wants-you-rich, health-and-wealth, name-it-and-claim-it gospel. Established lifestyles, value structures, and self-centered priorities that control many Christians' lives reek more of worldliness than they manifest God's Kingdom. We need your help in stemming any slide toward a syncretistic surrender.

Those who lose their lives will preserve them

Please help us solve these pressing problems. Help unleash the explosive potential in our churches. Without your creative gifts, we may not be able to carry out Christ's Great Commission. Years ago, a cute little blonde thought I was throwing my life away. I don't remember her name. I do, however, remember that Jesus once said that those who try to save or make secure their lives will lose them (Matthew 16:25 and Luke 17:33). Only those who lose their life will keep it.

Thrown my life away? Yes, I've done that. And I found it again.

Will you join me?

Given at an annual Southern Nazarene University Phi Delta Lambda Honor Society alumni breakfast

    -- Howard Culbertson,

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