Across Cultures

Freedom from Antidiscrimination

Photo credit: unsplash.com_RLopes Anti-discrimination is a big concern nowadays. In a nation that touts “freedom for all” and guarantees equal rights, there should be no discrimination. But there is.

Discrimination has existed as long as humans have lived. It isn’t limited to one nation or people group; in fact, you could say it’s an equal opportunity factor.

In America, we’re most concerned about discrimination in the areas of gender-types, race, religion, and social-economic status. Sadly, the protected rights of one group can infringe on another.

Hearts and minds

Laws can be passed and policies created, but they won’t change people’s hearts and minds. It’s in a person’s thinking and emotions that prejudice and bias reside.

Unless a person is changed internally, any changes on the outside are temporary and often fickle.

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”—Galatians 3:28 (NKJV)

The kingdom of God is so different from the world around us. God rules His kingdom with love and love prevails over laws.

When a person encounters God’s grace and is changed spiritually in his heart and mind, he begins to see people differently than before. At least, that’s God’s intent and purpose for His children.

[bctt tweet="God rules His kingdom with love and love prevails over laws" username="tkbeyond"]

God doesn't discriminate

This verse isn’t saying nationalities, status, or gender no longer exist in a physical sense, but within God’s kingdom, in relationship with Jesus Christ, we are all one.

God doesn’t discriminate. After all, He’s doesn’t want anyone to perish (2 Peter 3:9).

We see this through the life of Jesus displayed in the four gospels. Of course, this openness to people of all backgrounds angered those who created barriers against many people.

In the end, Jewish leaders manipulated people to turn against Jesus. They were definitely discriminatory.

[bctt tweet="God doesn’t discriminate—He doesn't want anyone to perish" username="tkbeyond"]

God's worldview

When God’s grace is worked into our hearts and minds, we can look past whatever causes prejudice and bias. The love of Jesus and His call that we follow Him (Luke 9:23) ought to strip us of such things.

So, why does discrimination of any kind exist within the Church? Why do we as believers react in prejudicial ways toward others?

Simple. The prevailing culture of the world too often exerts more influence on us than the radically different culture of God’s kingdom.

[bctt tweet="God’s kingdom is radically different from the world's culture" username="tkbeyond"]

What can be done about it?

Each of us must choose the worldview of Jesus over the worldview of our culture. His worldview is summed up in John 3:16—God’s love prompted His death for all of humanity.

It’s not like wearing blinders or rose-colored glasses, but having a gracious heart and a renewed mind.

[bctt tweet="Choose the worldview of Jesus over the worldview of our culture" username="tkbeyond"]

Some questions and an encouragement—

How do you see prejudice and bias in your own heart and thoughts?

Why do you think any prejudice or bias exists in your life?

Look at who you tend to view in a negative way, how can you pray for them?

Likewise, who do you feel has a negative attitude towards you, and how can you pray for them?

Find ways of building relationships with people who are different from you, and ask the Lord to guide you in doing so.


This was originally posted on Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale's Daily Devo blog, here's the link– Freedom from Antidiscrimination

A Man and His Faith

Ayele_teaching_Omo Last week, I took a quick look at theology—our beliefs about God. We've all got theology, but we all don't believe the same things. By "we," I mean humanity.

Why don't we believe the same things? Because we're all different, with different backgrounds, and different life stories.

This week, I want to look at the intriguing life story of a friend of mine.

My Ethiopian friend

I first met Benjamin (pronounced Beny-a-min) at a church service and liked him immediately. He was the first Ethiopian I met, but not the last. His life story intrigued me, yet it stirred some controversy. He has a common name, but his life story is far from common.

He was born in rural Ethiopia into a muslim family. When he came home from school and saw smoke rising from his home, he was happy. He knew his mother was cooking a special meal for his father, who had other wives than his mother.

He came to faith in Jesus through dreams, as I've heard take place for many of Islamic faith. Because of his choice to follow Jesus, he was ostracized by his family, which sent him on a search.

Benjamin set out to find help to learn about his new faith and was directed to missionaries in Kenya. Along the way, he was captured by Communist soldiers who tortured him for his faith in brutal ways. Eventually, he found the guidance he needed, and came to America for education.

A passion for his people

I met Benjamin as he raised support to work with a mission in Kenya. He became a missionary to Ethiopian refugees gathered in neighboring Somalia. These were his people and he wanted them to know the Lord Jesus.

I had him preach at our church a couple of times in the mid-eighties, so I heard much of his story. We also spent time talking about his mission and passion for reaching his people with the gospel.

I found Benjamin to be a man of great faith and integrity. He was childlike in the ways of American culture and social norms, but well-read and intelligent. I trusted him.

An interrupted testimony

He told me of a time when he shared his testimony at another church. The pastor invited him on the recommendation of someone in his congregation. As he told the story of his conversion from Islam to Christ, the pastor interrupted him and had him sit down.

The pastor told him he didn't believe in such things (the supernatural experiences), and discounted his life story. This stunned my friend Benjamin. It saddened me as he told me of it. Needless to say, this pastor was not one of his supporters.

Here was a man of integrity and without deceit who shared his personal encounter with Jesus, but he was not believed. Why? Because the pastor couldn't get past his own theological filters.

I'm glad for my encounter with Benjamin. His life added more depth and fullness to mine. He was one more encouragement for my own missionary experience. Years later I would visit his homeland (see photo above).

When we moved to the Philippines and he moved to Kenya, we lost contact with each other. But I will never forget Benjamin and his faith.

We're not all the same

Our experiences and encounters in pursuit of the truth shape and impact our faith and understanding of God. Identical experiences don't produce the same results. A simple reading of the gospels reveals this.

All of the apostles were afraid of Jesus as He walked on the water. Only Peter got out of the boat to walk towards Him (Matt 14:22-33). The Roman centurion who witnessed the death of Jesus realized He was innocent, unlike his fellow soldiers (Luke 23:47). After Jesus healed ten lepers, only one came back to thank Him (Luke 17:11-19).

Each of us view things differently. We often draw different conclusions with different perspectives from similar experiences. So, how can we possibly have any unity in the Christian faith? Benjamin and I shared the same faith in Jesus, but our life stories were very different.

The Christian faith is a personal faith because it's centered on the person of Jesus. The closer we grow in our relationship with Jesus, the more unified we become as a group. This can be seen during a worship service, as the Lord intends (1 Cor 12:12-14, 25).

A question and a challenge

Last week, I mentioned two things I hoped to get more response on, so here it goes again.

Would any of you reading this post be interested in learning more about inductive Bible study? If that sounds interesting, let me know.

Here are 3 things I want to challenge you to do—

  1. Review your own life as a believer in Jesus—What stands out as most important to your spiritual growth and why?
  2. Who is the most influential spiritual leader in your life, so far? Why?
  3. What’s been most helpful to you in your pursuit to know God?

I'd love to hear your responses to any of the above. You can post it in the comments for this post, or post it on the Word-Strong Facebook page.

Thanks for reading and please feel free to share this post!

Adopted and Accepted

IMG_3137 It’s an amazing thing to watch a child meet and bond with their adoptive family. My wife and I, with our daughters, witnessed this many, many times over the past two decades. It never gets old.

For us and our Filipino staff, it was a bittersweet time. It was sad to say goodbye, but seeing this union filled us with great joy. We saw adoptive parents from many parts of the world come greet their children. Language barriers melted away with love and affection.

We also saw some of the children we cared for reunite with their families of origin. This reminds me of God’s restoring love for those who return to Him and trust in Him again.

The church worldwide is like a huge blended family. We may look different on the outside, we may sound different, and even have different customs, but we’re of the same family. Read more...


This was originally posted at Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale's Daily Devo blog— Adopted and Accepted

Have a blessed New Year!

 

A Rekindled Vision

MPR_CCBCP Not quite two weeks ago, I posted about my recent ministry time in the Philippines. This is somewhat of a follow-up post that includes what I recently shared with those on my mailing list.


I just returned from a couple of weeks in the Philippines. It was a great time reconnecting with the ministry of Calvary Chapel Bible College (Philippines) and everyone there. I taught a class and several other messages during the first week. I also shared messages with the church body at Calvary Chapel Dumaguete City, and at the House of Jesus (a church plant in a nearby town).

The second week was focused on the 20th anniversary of the Bible college. It was great to see returning alumni and reconnecting with pastor friends I hadn't seen in several years. In talking with alumni and staff, and the director and president of the college, something was rekindled in my heart.

Rekindled vision

My heart was stirred in a fresh way for the need to equip pastors and leaders, not only through the Bible college, but through extension campuses and IBS workshops. This was confirmed further as I met with Ptr Jing (CCBCP director) and Ptr Jimmy Morales of CC Lone Mountain.

On my way back to the US, I passed through Manila and was able to meet up with Ptr Lito and Cecile for dinner. We talked about the need for an extension campus up in Manila and in other areas of Luzon (largest island).

Extension campuses

LIto-CecileThis is an important part of the rekindled vision in my heart. Currently, there is one extension campus, near the main campus of the school in Dumaguete City. However, none exist in the Luzon area at this time.

The extension campuses can be regional centers for equipping leaders and workers for ministry. The curriculum will be a condensed version of what is offered at the main campus.

Courses can be offered on Friday nights and Saturdays, so those attending can still do ministry in their home place. Pastors in the area can be the teachers. The courses would be text-based inductive study with the pastors providing instruction and practical insights.

Vision for my role

A part of the role I can play is helping these campuses get set up, and to provide training and encouragement for the teachers. I also need to work on the condensed curriculum, most of which I can do in my home office in FL.

Am I planning to move back to the Philippines? No, but I do believe I need to travel over to the Philippines and Thailand at least once or twice a year. I also have a heart to do some training in other countries, but that will come later.


In order to pursue this rekindled vision for ministry overseas, I need to raise support for travel and ministry expenses. If you'd like to partner with me in this venture, you can give online or via regular mail. Thank you!

Please send support to Shepherd's Staff to my account (511) and designate for Ministry Travel. I also appreciate (and need) monthly support for my continued ministry with Poimen Ministries, which can also be sent via my Shepherd's Staff account.

Thank you for those who already support me in prayer and funds! I appreciate you a lot, and count you as partners in the ministry God gives me to do.

Back Home for a While

IMG_0566 It was 25 years ago that my family and I moved across the world to the Philippines. It was my second time to travel there and their first. It was a new adventure of faith and we didn't have any grand plan.

God put a vision for serving in the Philippines in the heart of my wife and I. Two distinct visions for ministry. My wife wanted to care for abandoned babies, and I felt called to equip pastors and leaders.

Out of those two visions, God gave us the privilege of establishing two ministries—Rainbow Village Ministries and Calvary Chapel Training Center (with CC Bible College).

Back home at full speed

Last year, we realized it was time to bring Rainbow's ministry to a close after 23 years of fruitful ministry. You can read that story here. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Bible college I established in 1995. Susan and I still marvel at what God entrusted to us for a time.

This past week I taught the second year students. It's a course on applied hermeneutics for studying biblical prophecy, and we studied through the book of Malachi. This week many alumni will come, along with teachers and pastors who've served here over the past twenty years, to celebrate God's faithfulness.

Dumaguete City is still home to us. We lived here for fifteen years, and it's where we've had a church home for 25 years. Filipino culture embraced us and we gained an extended family of dear friends whom we enjoy fellowship with each time we are here.

 

IMG_4991

Still my passion

So, my schedule is busy with teaching and fellowshipping over meals, and I'm enjoying it to the max. It also rekindles my passion for world missions, also known as cross-cultural ministry. I'm reminded of the simple truth Jesus told His first followers in Matthew 9:37-38—

Then he [Jesus] said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

More than ever this is true. There are billions in the world who have not heard the gospel, and billions who do not have anyone to disciple them in the faith. Below are some previous posts regarding this reality. Please read and pray!

And... please share with others what encourages you and touches your heart! Thanks!

Previous posts—

MOTROW

Men of Faith

The World Has Changed

From Germany with Love

snow-walk My wife and I have been in Germany for a short while to enjoy our youngest granddaughter's first birthday, and visit our youngest daughter and her husband. There was snow on the ground when we arrived, and we enjoyed crisp walks around their quaint German town.

But we also did a bit of sightseeing to nearby cities, cathedrals and a castle, along with a quick trip to France. It's been a wonderful time and we wish we could stay longer, but we hope to be back sooner than later.

Vidals

We came in February to celebrate Eva's first birthday, and it was a lot of fun! It was also a great time for Nana and Pop-pop to spend time with Eva!

©LVidal

 

 

 

 

 

One of my highlights was to visit the city of Worms where Martin Luther made his stand before the Roman Catholic Diet (court), which paved the way for the Reformation and Protestant movement.

ThomasFam

New missionary friends, the Thomas's, hosted and guided us around Worms. They are developing relationships and working towards planting a church in Mainz.

Joe developed a unique form of outreach with a coin and his website in German. Please pray for them!

tk-MLuther

 

We also visited the beautiful city of Heidelberg, with its wonderful castle overlooking the city.

Heidlbg

 

Another highlight was visiting the city of Metz, across the border in France. The city's cathedral (Dom) has the largest collection of stained glass in one place in all of Europe. It includes some of Marc Chagall's work, which is beautiful.

Chagall-MenzWe found the people of France and southern Germany to be quite friendly and helpful, even though we knew little French or German.

An added bonus was fellowshipping at Calvary Chapel Gruenstadt, where our daughter and her husband attend. This past Sunday I had the privilege of sharing the Word, and there was a wonderful time of worship, as well.

We are not looking forward to saying farewell, but already looking forward to a return trip. It's been as much of a blessing as we expected.

 

Thankful, but Concerned

Photo credit: lightstock.com I was blessed to hear a young man express his gratitude for God this week. His prayer of thanksgiving included appreciation for God's faithfulness in the midst of trials in his life. It was a sweet, genuine utterance of praise, and I felt honored to hear it.

This past Monday I gathered with a group of men for a Thanksgiving meal and worship time. It's a group I led for several years and handed off to leaders I was privileged to mentor.

It's a diverse mix of guys, men of all ages that include various social, ethnic, and economic backgrounds. It was the same night the grand jury decision was announced in Ferguson, MO. While we gave thanks and fellowshipped in unity, a riotous mob was united in a very different way.

Thankful but concerned

am thankful for many people and blessings in my life this Thanksgiving Day. I love my family—my wife, children and grandchildren—and our many friends spread over the nation and the world.

I'm also concerned about the divide in our nation. A divide that includes race, religion, politics, and economics. It's a unity based on discontent, resentment, and prejudice. I hate it.

Beautiful diversity

The young man who prayed is black. He and his brother are the fruit of an evangelistic outreach from the church I've been connected to for nearly a decade. The outreach is led by an enthusiastic white brother from up north. He is small of stature, but big and bold in faith.

As we prayed, sang songs, and expressed our worship and gratitude, I was aware of the diversity of the group. It was led by a Puerto Rican brother, while the meal was coordinated by another hispanic brother whose a retired Navy commander. Both are good friends of mine.

Brothers of different nationalities filled the room from Nigeria, Haiti, Mexico, Puerto Rico, South Africa, oh yeah, and some guys in a Christian biker ministry, and others who might be seen as red-necks. I saw familiar faces and new faces, and I saw diversity.

The faces of heaven

I love diversity! I look forward to the worship revealed in the Book of Revelation–

And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” Rev 5:9-10

I love churches where diversity is present. It's a taste of what I expect in heaven. It reflects the love of my Savior—a savior for all people—all ethnic groups throughout the world.

Thankful!

I long for the day we (believers) will see Jesus face to face. Until that day, I choose to be thankful. I'll choose to let my thankfulness transcend what concerns me.

More than 40 years ago I chose to trust in Jesus and entrusted all my life to Him. I have every reason to continue trusting Him for all things.

What about you? Who do you trust in?

If it's anyone but Jesus, you'll be disappointed, probably sooner than later.

Who are you thankful for this day and everyday?

Know that the Lord is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; 
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; 
his faithfulness continues through all generations. Psalm 100:3-5 NIV

Who and what are the blessings in your life?

Brothers and sisters, think about the things that are good and worthy of praise.

Think about the things that are true and honorable and right and pure and beautiful and respected. Phil 4:8 NCV


 

Next week the study in Proverbs will return, thanks for reading & Happy Thanksgiving!

Is It Really “All Good?”

by Stacia © 2009 - 2014 Keep Calm Network Ltd It’s become a common expression— “It’s all good!” But is that really so?

I don’t think so, and I can think of a few reasons for that.

If you hadn't noticed, there's quite a bit of unrest in the world. Unrest would be the politically correct euphemism to describe violence and political chaos. It's not just "out there" in the world somewhere, but at home in the US this past couple weeks.

I'm not a big fan of clichés, trite sayings, or catch phrases. Too often, they are expressions that mask the truth.

I'm not a conspiracist

I don't see life on this earth as an allegory.

I believe God is sovereign over all governments, including secret societies that would manipulate the world economy.

In short, God is bigger and brighter than any group of people on the earth. He has a plan far grander and more pervasive than any of us imagines, and there's been a lot of imaginings about end of the world scenarios.

I don't see life on this earth as an allegory

My basis for all this is what I read in the Bible. I especially like what one of the greatest tyrants of the world said, after personally experiencing God's sovereign power. You can read about him (Nebuchadnezzar) in the book of Daniel, chapter 4. It's a great story! Here's his observation—

At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” (Daniel 4:34-35)

I'm also not a Pollyanna

It's hard for me to go along in life as if "all things are good." I've traveled and lived outside of my home culture (the US), so I know that's not the case. There is a lot of injustice in the world.

Yes, injustice is alive and well in the US, but it can't be compared to what I've seen in other places throughout the world. This doesn't make it less unjust, but we all get a bit myopic about things—seeing what we see as if it were all there is to see.

Christian believers, of many backgrounds, have been in the forefront of bringing freedom for others, challenging injustice, and bringing relief in times of disaster and war. There have been more Christian believers persecuted in the past century than in all prior centuries combined. [Also see– http://www.persecution.org/ | http://www.persecution.com/]

Yes, of course, some out there will bring up the crusades and other unjust "Christian" history. But I'm referring to those Christians who are part of God's kingdom, not an extension of humanly driven kingdoms. Enough said on that. And, no, I'm not interested in your opinion on that, it isn't worth the time it would consume to debate it. That's not the point.

There is a lot of injustice in the world

The existence of injustice

Injustice exists because humans exist. People like you and me, who have chosen to exert our free will in opposition to God, and along the way, one another. So, we all are guilty of some form of injustice, prejudice, or indifference to injustice.

Injustice will continue until God's kingdom reigns on earth. Until then, each follower of Jesus, including me, is responsible to do something about injustice when we are confronted with it.

What prompted this post? The recent beheading of journalist Jim Foley, and the tragedy and protests in Ferguson, MO are part of the reason.

Honestly, I'm not that interested in what people's opinions are on all this, I can tune in to network news and get that. But I am wondering, how do you respond to injustice when it hits close to home?

How do you respond to injustice when it hits close to home?

One thing we can do—listen

One thing we can all do better is listen. Listen without prejudice or assumptions. As I've heard before, "God gave you two ears and one mouth!" I know that I learn a lot more by listening, really listening, than anything else. Especially when it has to do with situations where I'm ignorant.

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. (James 1:19-20 NIV)

This past weekend I read a poignant article and listened to an insightful podcast related to the shooting in Ferguson. I encourage you to listen to these voices, even if you have a different view of things than what you hear.

BTW, I get that the saying, "It's all good" is meant in an innocuous way. It's just that, it's not all good... not from what I can see and hear.

Too Many Goodbyes

Last staff dayOne thing we learned early on as long-term missionaries—you say a lot of goodbyes. So do the nationals with whom you build relationships. It's not something you get used to, but it comes with the territory of being a long-term missionary (for at least a year or more on the field).

You say goodbye to family and friends when you first go to the field. This is tough, but it's tempered by the excitement of "going" and ignorance of the separation you'll realize later.

Once you've settled into building relationships with the people you live and serve among, you have more goodbyes. When family, friends, missions teams, and other visitors come to see you, you'll have another slew of goodbyes—some tougher than others.

Family, friends, and furloughs

Pays-RVM_airportThen there's furlough time. The more traditional mission agencies require long terms on the field (3-4 years) before going back on furlough. FYI, furloughs are not vacations! They're often stressful and overloaded with meetings.

When you leave to go on furlough, you say goodbye to your friends on the field, both national and ex-pat. When you leave what used to be home to go back to the field, you say a bunch more goodbyes.

I'd like to tell you it gets easier the longer you're on the field, but that wouldn't be accurate. Well, at least not for us, and we aren't so different from most other missionaries.

There's a saying that goes, "The only time a missionary feels at home is on the plane (or boat) going to or from the field."

When are you leaving?

One of the first questions we get asked after arriving on the field is, "When are you leaving?"

At first, it may sound like they can't wait to see you go, but it's deeper than that. Nationals (of any country) who have known and worked alongside western and near-culture missionaries have their own experience with goodbyes.

This is easy to overlook by us western missionary-types, but it's a mistake to do so.

In the cultures of MOTROW, friendships are forever. It's not easy building long-term relationships knowing that one day you'll have to say goodbye.

It's not easy building long-term relationships knowing that one day you'll have to say goodbye.

Now

Ks_LoriAnd that brings us to our present time at Rainbow. We are saying a lot of goodbyes, and it's not fun. But... it's part of the territory and everyone knows it.

More than a week ago, we had our reunion-celebration at Rainbow Village. Now we are in Despedida mode. This is a word borrowed from the Spanish. It's a farewell celebration.

Our reunion was a Despedida for Rainbow's ministry. Today was the last official work day for the staff, and the giving of their last paychecks (sueldo). It was a tearful time, but of course, a time for pictures, and some laughter!

Last staff day_FreddyThis Friday we'll have a staff-only Despedida with Susan and I. It will be a special time spent with those we've had a special relationship with for so many years.

I told them no tears on Friday! Well... we'll see. At least we're going to a fresh water pool in the mountains, so tears won't be so obvious!

Then Sunday, we turn over the keys to Rainbow's compound to the director of the foundation who blessed us with the property. The next day we close the gate for the last time, as we head to the airport.

I try not to think about that now.

Lasting Fruit

tu-od_mangoThe mangoes of the Philippines are amazingly delicious! It's their national fruit, and I've found no other mango like the queen of mangoes, the tu-od variety. I posted this photo on Instagram and Facebook, proclaiming their goodness, and saw a lot of response in agreement. But there are many are other wonderful fruits in the Philippines and SE Asia.

Yet, the fruit I'm most excited about in the Philippines doesn't grow on trees. (Tweet or Share this)

Fruit that doesn't grow on trees

bukid_riverThis past Sunday I drove into the mountains above Rainbow to preach at a church I've been to many times. It's pastored by a dear friend named EB. I will refer to him as EB, since he ministers in many places and to different groups. I've known him for 20+ years.

He was one of my students at a Bible school I started, and also one of my teachers. So, you could say he is fruit born out of my ministry in the Philippines, yet I see much more fruit coming from him. This is the way Jesus intended it, as mentioned in an earlier post.

EB has discipled many men and women, who in turn, disciple others. This brings me great joy and hope. It is what Jesus had in mind as He discipled His followers, and what He told them the night He was betrayed (John 15:8, 16).

A question to consider

The question is, are we discipling people to disciple others, or just indoctrinating them? (Tweet or Share this) Are we teaching them truth that's important to know, or equipping them to know the truth? (Tweet or Share this) **

What's the difference? When we indoctrinate people, we spoon feed them truth. In discipling and equipping people, they learn to feed themselves on Jesus and His word (see John 6:48-51 and 15:5-8). (Tweet or Share this)

Parents grind or chop up food for babies to eat, because they have no teeth to chew food. Or, they can just open a jar of baby food. But as children grow older they can learn to cut and chew their own food.

Are the believers in our churches still being fed like babies, or taught to feed themselves? I wonder. (Tweet or Share this)

Feeding or equipping?

EB_TK_tikalaI see a true discipler in my pastor friend. He oversees several churches by training the leaders to teach the people how to know the truth themselves. In one nearby church, he has equipped four leaders who each have three assistants. He trains them, and they are to teach and train the people in the same way.

EB also developed a Bible school, an oral Bible school. It's based on his inductive Bible training with me, and the biblical storying ministry of Simply the Story (STS). This training extends beyond his work in the mountains of Negros Oriental. It's been exported to other islands in the Philippines, Hong Kong, and even Thailand.

He also does radio ministry twice a week. He tells Bible stories and asks questions, then people text him answers and their own questions about the truth. This leads to more training in other places.

Another method of training takes place over a cell phone broadcast. He sets his cell phone up with a speaker, then interacts with people over the phone. Even on buses and boats EB will share Bible stories, selecting ones that match the circumstance of a listener.

True discipleship

My friend is mindful of being an example to others of what he teaches. True discipleship is more about example than doctrine (1 Tim 4:12). (Tweet or Share this) Doctrine ought to be based on what is understood from personal study of God's Word guided by God's Spirit (1 John 2:20, 27 and 2 Tim 1:13-14). (Tweet or Share this)

Trees produce fruit naturally. They're designed to do so by their Creator. Discipleship is similar. (Tweet or Share this) The fruit of discipleship comes naturally when done the way Jesus intended. (Tweet or Share this)

True disciplers are my favorite kind of fruit. They produce lasting fruit. (Tweet or Share this) True discipleship produces fruit that outlasts any one person's life. (Tweet or Share this)

This is how it should be. But is it? Is this what is seen in most churches today? I wonder.

Here's a simple challenge for the new year— If you haven't been discipled, get discipled by someone you trust. Then, disciple someone yourself. (Tweet or Share this)

Discipleship is not rocket science, as they say, it's simple and natural when done the way Jesus did it (John 13:15). (Tweet or Share this)

__________________

** If you like this, share it! Either click to post to Twitter or copy & paste into other social media... thanks!

These Are a Few of Our Favorite Things

©tkbeyond / word-strong.comIn the Philippines, celebrating Christmas starts early. We joke that celebrating Christmas begins in the "Brrr" months— Septembrrr, Octobrrr, Novembrrr. Of course, the temperature doesn't fall below 75°F too often, so it's more of a mindset than reality. Here in the Philippines, we don't worry about offending people when saying, "Merry Christmas!" Most everyone celebrates Christmas with lots of activities.

This week we've enjoyed two Christmas parties, a baby dedication, and renewed fellowship with our Rainbow and Dumaguete City family. These are a few of our favorite things.

If you're familiar with popular Christmas music, you know the tune, maybe even the words, to the song, "These are a few of my favorite things." It mostly revolves around cold weather experiences.

Our favorite things in the Philippines aren't things but people. As mentioned in last week's post, most of the rest of the world values people over things, and events over tasks. This post is a simple reflection of that.

©tkbeyond/word-strong.com

Our first party was at CCTC where I shared a Christmas message to the staff and students. We had lots of fun and food! A Filipino tradition is secret gift giving dance called Manita-Manito. It includes random styles of dancing and making people guess who will receive our gift. It is pure and simple fun! There were also songs, dancing, and skit performances, which are the usual fare for most Christmas parties.

The next day we had our annual Rainbow Christmas party for our children, girls, and staff and their families. It takes a lot of preparation, but it's well worth it. It's a high-point of our calendar.

©tkbeyond/word-strong.com

We have a children's presentation of the Christmas story, games, songs, presentations, gift giving, and food. This year we were blessed with having Freddy, one of our Rainbow kids adopted several years ago, joining the festivities and sharing a song. Sponsored students also shared in the fun, along with the children, girls and staff.

©tkbeyond/word-strong.com

This Sunday we were blessed to witness the dedication of the newest addition to one of our Rainbow families. After church, we enjoyed a celebration lunch with extended family. It was a full-packed weekend to start our time here in Dumaguete!

Although we miss our family in the US, we really enjoy all the people and events that are part of our Christmas celebration here. It's still like home to us after so many years.

May your Christmas celebration be filled and blessed with people and events celebrating the birth of Jesus. He is indeed, the Reason for the Season.

Simplicity and Power

©tkbeyond/word-strong.com Stories have both simplicity and power. They engage the heart and mind. (Click to Tweet) This is what makes biblical storying so effective.

Biblical storying is the purest form of sharing the gospel. (Click to Tweet)

Simple, yet powerful

Here's an excerpt from a newsletter (from Simply the Story) about a Filipino pastor I've partnered with for many years. I have been his mentor, but he's also my mentor through his example of bold leadership and vision.

We continue to pray for those in the Philippines who were devastated by the typhoon. A week before the typhoon, our amazing STS instructor (who leads workshops, plants Oral Bible Schools and tells STS stories on weekly radio programs) wrote us.“

"The pastor of ___ church called me last night and told me that he changed. ‘'I listen to you, and so do other pastors of my denomination. I noticed in your program that you never talk any doctrine. I always try to answer your questions by my doctrines, but I find my doctrines are not in the Bible.'’ [His denomination is not considered by some to be Christian.]

"“My radio program encouraged him to read the Bible. He and those pastors asked me for training so they can learn how to be closer to what the Bible teaches."

Influence that lasts

Few people have this pastor's vision, discernment, and resourcefulness. He doesn't pastor a large church, nor oversee a large network of churches.

Yet, his fruitful influence exceeds more well-known ministries. Why? He practices what Jesus instructed his disciples, "Freely you have received, freely give." (Matt 10:8 NIV)

He doesn't hold on to people or resources. He's willing to cross lines drawn by others to serve and teach whoever is hungry for the truth. (Click to Tweet)

Effective discipleship is color-blind, non-partisan, and inclusive of all ethnicities. (Click to Tweet)

True discipleship ignores cultural barriers and socio-economic status. It is the essence of the Great Commission (Matt 28:19-20). (Click to Tweet)

Discipleship is the practical application of God's love to whoever will receive it. (Click to TweetLove is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking.... (1 Cor 13:4-5 NIV)

This is the heart of God as seen in His Son Jesus, as He discipled those who followed Him.

God's story

Jesus told stories with simplicity and power. The gospel is not a collection of theological truths, but the revelation of God's personal and redemptive love. (Click to Tweet)

The entire Bible is God's redemptive story. All of it, even the parts that are hard to understand or accept. (Click to Tweet)

When we (teachers, pastors, leaders, etc.) reduce God's grand, all-encompassing story of love to propositional truths, we rob it of its power, we corrupt its simplicity. (Click to Tweet) The way Jesus went about His ministry was so simple and powerful, it drew people to Him. (Mark 1:21-28) (Click to Tweet)

No need for improvement

And yet, the church and its leaders keep trying to improve on how ministry is done. Talk about being missional and intentional sounds good. But has the gospel become more relevant? (Click to Tweet)

Have we only managed to complicate it? If so, we've put it out of reach for millions. Make that billions. (http://www.peoplegroups.org/)

The gospel has always been relevant, because it is personal and true, simple and powerful. (Click to Tweet)

How well do you know the gospel? Do you know how to share it with anyone, at anytime, anywhere?

You can't, and you won't, unless you know it in your heart, not just in your mind.

Read it. Hear it. Share it. Then let it become embedded in your daily life as you follow Jesus.

More resources—

Blue Letter Bible– www.blueletterbible.org/

Daily Audio Bible–  http://dailyaudiobible.com/

Orality Network– http://www.orality.net/

The World Has Changed

©kentoh | 123rf stock photos Saying the world has changed may seem an understatement, an obvious one. But Paul Borthwick is a world-renown teacher and consultant on world missions, and this statement is the recurring theme of his book. He isn't referring to technology, nor culture per se. It's a declaration about global missions. And he ought to know, he has much experience to back it up .

While reading through his most recent book, Western Christians in Global Mission, I was both challenged and refreshed by his writing, research, and dialogue to western Christians involved in global mission, such as myself. As a cross-cultural missionary, I had a vested interest in reading this book and I was not disappointed.

I've already recommended it to others, and wrote a review on Amazon. But I wanted to make a recommendation here on my blog. The subtitle alone challenges the reader with a question too often unconsidered— What's the Role of the North American Church (in Global Mission)?Western_Mission_cover

Having been a church planter in the US and trainer of church planters and leaders in SE Asia, this is a vital question to be answered. Mr Borthwick does this well in several ways.

He begins with broad views of the church in North America and the Majority World, and how they fit into the state of the world. He sees Nine Great changes in the world that are Great Challenges for the church worldwide (pages 33-60).

  • The Great Transition— the worldwide church is primarily non-white, non-Western, and non-wealthy
  • The Great Migration— there are vast movements of people from nation to nation
  • 2 Great Divides— an Economic Divide and a Theological Divide
  • 2 Great Walls— the first being a wall between the gospel "haves" and the gospel "have-nots," the second is the effect of environmental impacts on the poor.
  • The Great Commission— the church has not done a good job making disciples, either in North America or the Majority World (making converts is not the same as making disciples).
  • The Great Compassion— seeing beyond the need of salvation to see people in their need of many things for daily life (yet without causing a dependency).
  • The Great Salvation— a personal worldview that serves as a reminder and motivation for going out into the world with the gospel.
  • The Great Celebration— having vision for the celebration in heaven of every tribe, tongue, and nation worshipping Jesus.

The author goes on to give "An Appraisal of the North American Church." It is one I found to be both confirming and challenging. Then "An Appraisal of the Majority World Church." This was both refreshing and disconcerting, and it confirmed my thoughts that the great need in the Majority World (I call it MOTROW) is the need for sound equipping of leaders.

A good portion of the book is dedicated to seeing how to move forward to meet these changes and challenges. There are plenty of open-ended questions and penetrating insights given by Majority World leaders to foster discussion and consideration. The author adds stories of his own that give vivid insight into the learning curve presented in this book.

His extensive experience in many countries and continents with various leaders and people groups qualifies him to not only make statements, but pose important questions. He gets into specifics and provides practical queries and guidance.

I found myself agreeing over and over again with the points made and the challenges posed. Not only does Paul Borthwick make his case well and graciously, it lines up with my own observations from experience on the mission field for the past 20+ years, including 15 years as a resident in the Philippines.

I don't just recommend this book, I believe it is a must read for anyone in North America who wants to keep in step with God's plan for His Great Commission, especially western-culture missionaries.

A continuing theme throughout the book is, "The world has changed." So has the church worldwide, and the world mission movement.

America has a role, but it's not out in front taking charge, directing, and funding everything. It's in a partnership alongside Majority World missionary leaders.

I hope you'll take time to read and thoughtfully consider all that's presented in this book. The world has changed and it's waiting for us to catch up with it.

Men of Faith

It's not the sort of thing that makes headlines, even in Christian circles. But it is the heart of story after story in the Bible. The heartbeat of God's kingdom throughout the world. A simple walk of faith. A commitment to serve the Living God and His Son, Jesus the Messiah, and extend the Kingdom of God on earth. Elmer_guysI want to mention a few more of the men and women of faith—true faith—that make up the Body of Christ worldwide. Echoes of their stories are found in the Bible (as in Hebrews Chapter 11) and scattered in all the continents of the world. I featured two families of pastors I know in the Philippines in some recent posts (Extended Family andFruit). These are men I've mentored over the years. This post is more or less a follow up to those posts.

Once again I had the privilege of meeting with my dear friend Pastor Elmer and a few other pastors. He is church planter, has developed a training school for church planters, trains leaders, has sent out missionaries, and does ministry over the radio and even cell phone conference calls. He is resourceful, visionary and tireless. I'm blessed to have him as a friend.

Last week we met to see how all of us could collaborate in our service in God's kingdom. Elmer shared some of his vision for training leaders to reach oral learners, those referred to as non-literate. He is a certified trainer with a US-based ministry called Simply the Story. He's travelled to the middle-east and hopes to come to the US to share his vision and ministry. But his heart is and always will be in the Philippines.

The men gathered together have experience as pastors and church planters. Each has different gifts and vision. I've been their mentor, teacher, and in some cases their boss (as director of a Bible school). Now I'm more of a partner with them (Phil 1:5). I'm still a mentor in many ways, but more as an encourager.

My role has changed over the years from being a primary leader (in charge) to that of a partner. A partner comes alongside and works with other partners. It is a mutual relationship and I'm learning to become a better partner along the way.

This role of partnership with national leaders is not a concept or paradigm, but it is a developing one. This is laid out and discussed in a newly published book I'm reading through now, Western Christians in Global Mission, by Paul Borthwick. It is a role I began to realize and enjoy at the beginning of the new millenium.

Western_Mission_coverMany western cross-cultural missionaries see the crippling effect of discipling national believers in a traditional or western style of ministry. Instead of leaders and churches discipled to Jesus regardless of culture, they are often stilted reflections of western churches.

One simple thing I learned over the years and have shared with others is to begin the "transition" to national leadership from the outset of establishing any ministry or church within a cross-cultural setting. Two important reasons come out of this lesson.

It takes considerable time to disciple and mentor people and no shortcuts exist to do so. We are to disciple people in relationship to Jesus, not to a methodology, nor to a style of ministry. This is a basic truth as stated by the Lord, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Matt 16:24). He took more than three years to disciple those who followed Him. He spent most of His time and energy on twelve of them.

A second important part of the lesson is about national leadership. National people will not learn to follow a national leader unless they see him or her in a primary role as a leader. A primary role of leadership requires the attendant authority that goes with the responsibility of the work itself. This is a sticky point for many western missionaries. We don't like to give up our authoritative position. We don't want to lose control. It's the struggle of human will and pride.

If you want to move forward in partnership with national leaders, how do you do it? Jesus is always our prime example (Luke 10:1-3; 24:44-49). And being an example is always a prime element of being a leader.

Fruit

The value of long-term missions, especially cross-cultural missions, is the fruit it can produce. Time and investment are key. Not just marking time, nor the investment of money. These things produce their own fruit, but they are not spiritual, nor do they always further God's kingdom. I'm talking about the time it takes to invest in people and God's mission, which will always extend God's kingdom. It's not rocket-science, as they say, it's obvious. It's what Jesus did when establishing the Kingdom of God on earth. He invested His time in people—twelve men in particular, three men more deeply (Mark 1:14-20; 3:13-19). This same model works today, but is not always followed. Why? Because it requires commitment, faithfulness, persistence, and other such qualities and disciplines not so popular in our current age.

It is the cure, if you will, for discipling the present distracted generation. It is time-tested on the world's mission field. So, it is just as relevant now as it was in the time of Jesus. Relevant for local (home) missions and world (international) missions.

The past few weeks have reminded me of this. I had the privilege of preaching in a local church of a couple I've mentored for many years. Pastor Randy was one of my students and then one of my teaching staff at the Bible school. By his own admission, he was not an easy student. Manju, his wife, was the classmate of my oldest daughter, Becky, and on my administrative staff for several years. She calls herself a Filipina trapped in an Indian body.

They are one of several couples who are the continuing fruit (John 15:5, 8, 16) of the Bible college, or as some called it, the Bridal College. So be it. I see no shame in finding your life partner in a school of ministry of any level, especilly when the couple continues on in ministry.

I see no problem encouraging couples in marriage who have a commitment to God and His kingdom. Often, their families don't see it that way, nor their friends, nor the prevailing culture. Randy and Manju are a good example. They are from two very different cultures and socio-economic backgrounds. They are two very different personalities. And they fit together as true disciples of Jesus, bearing fruit that lasts.

This past year they resigned from their stable positions on the Training Center staff to pastor a small church full-time. The church is in a residential area adjacent to the (at times very noisy) airport. They have stepped out in faith and God has honored their faith. In that alone, they have been an example of faith for their church that encourages the people to follow the same Jesus they follow.

Time investment is not for those who look to whatever is expedient for the moment, or whatever is popular and trending. It requires vision from God and the grace of God to persevere in His calling. It is an investment in people and their lives. A building of relationships that requires commitment, faithfulness and lots of acceptance and mercy. The things we see in Jesus.

When others see this in us, whether as recognized leaders or simple followers of Jesus, they are more able to see Jesus in us. This is how God intends for His kingdom to be built, in any geographic location and within any culture.

Are you a follower of Jesus? How do people see your life as an example of His? How do they see you at work, at play, at home, or wherever you may be? Another way of saying it is, what is your influence on people?

We will produce some kind of fruit in our lives and in the lives we connect with, but what kind of fruit is it? Is it fruit that encourages others to walk in faith? Is it fruit that produces others who follow Jesus as we follow Him?

Extended Family

Extended family living under the same roof is common in many cultures. It hasn't been so common in America the past few decades, but that's changing because of present economic realities. At Rainbow  we have an extended family on one compound under a few roofs. On special occasions (Christmas, weddings, despididas [farewell parties], we see other members of Rainbow's extended family join us.

Susan and I feel at home when we travel to the Philippines to rejoin our extended Rainbow family. It's a community of young and old (we're the old ones now). Each person has a place within this community, this family. This is what God intends for His family, the church, the Body of Christ [1 Cor 12:12, 14, 18, 25-26]. Seeing God's extended family, the church worldwide, is a great blessing for cross-cultural missionaries. When we are here in Dumaguete City, we rejoin our church family at CCD. It's been our home church for two decades. This past Sunday I had the privilege of sharing a message at another local church, pastored by my good friend, Oscar, who's also a good artist, and a skilled teacher and trainer of leaders.

I've enjoyed the privilege of worshiping with many church families over the years, in many different geographic locations and cultures. Several times I've been the only white face present, yet I felt connected with God's extended family.

I appreciate my experiences in these church families. Not because I get to travel or serve cross-culturally, which I love to do, but it gives me a better perspective of God's church. It is a worldwide community, one large extended family.

Living in America, in our very fragmented and isolated culture, we're myopic. We have a very narrow, near-sighted view of life and the world. Our news media is so controlled by popular interest, it's hard to find out what's going on in the rest of the world. It doesn't matter what network. It's frustrating when you know there's much more going on in the world, but it seems closed off.

This is how church can be anywhere. In America, we've refined this myopic focus of attention on ourselves, and it's sad. It's also very selfish and self-centered, and something we need to guard our hearts against.

When we're in the Philippines we get a much wider view of world news, and a better sense of the church international. At a small missions conference this past week, I heard my pastor friend John share about the underground church and Bible school where he visited and taught. This stirs my heart, it always does.

A great need exists throughout much of the world for training and equipping leaders within the church. This need has burdened my heart for many years. It's not that they need me, if anything I need them. But they do need what I and many other western leaders have to offer— experience and expertise.

In America, we (the church) have been blessed, and abundantly so. A lot of talk has gone on about redistributing wealth. The church worldwide doesn't need the material wealth of American churches, that would ruin them. What they need is our wealth of spiritual resources— training, expertise, mentoring, and the like.

We need to see the church as an extended family that shares what God has blessed us with, not keeping it for ourselves. There are millions, no billions, of souls who are waiting for us to do so. The idea of sharing and being a community, an extended family, is what we see with the first church [Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-37].

This was the Lord's design and direction for His church. Why has it changed? Was it God who changed it or us? If you're not sure, just ask Him.

Killing of the Innocents

Last week I saw a clip from a movie about the life of Jesus, one of the many shown each Christmas and Easter season. It is a disturbing part of the life of Jesus (Matthew 2:16-18) where King Herod orders the murder of all boys two years and younger. It is a prophetic echo from the prophet Jeremiah when he foresaw the destruction of Jerusalem hundreds of years prior to Herod (Jer 31:15). Herod orders the killing of these innocent children out of his own self-absorbed anger and jealousy. It was pure evil.

Reflecting on the recent evil killing of innocent children in Newtown, CT, I'm reminded how often such killing takes place unnoticed by the general population of the world. But it doesn't go unnoticed. Not by those parents, children, and communities who witness these atrocious and evil acts. Neither does it go unnoticed by God.

The Fix
I addressed this a bit in another post (Broken), but I have some further thoughts on the aftermath of the killings. A lot of debate developed over how to fix whatever problem caused it all. How to prevent such tragedies. I heard three general themes or issues through all the rhetoric—gun control, violence in the media, and mental and moral health management.

Gun control will be debated over and over, and some good points can be made. Two thoughts come to mind. Gun ownership is a right according to the Bill of Rights, and once a right is eroded in some way (like the current assault on religious freedom, ie: Christianity), it is a slippery slope for more erosion. Okay, I get that. 

But the 2nd thought is this—guns are instruments of destruction, pure and simple. That's their purpose, whether it's a target, an animal, or a human being. Yes, they can be a deterrent and means of protection (self-defense). Yes, others with evil intent must be restrained, whether individuals or people groups (nations). But, the ultimate question is how much is enough, and will it really be enough?

We do live in a violent culture. I see this obsessive fascination in the many forms of media that inundate our culture—movies, TV series, digital games, cartoons, etcetera and so on. It isn't normal and it isn't healthy, just ask the many men and women of the military returning from active war environments, to whom we owe a debt of gratitude.

This also can become another so-called freedom issue. But is it really? Do we really need all this violent input involving zombies, vampires, and people who take the law into their own hands. We (our culture) glorify violence, plain and simple. And if we think it doesn't have a lasting and impactful influence on our psyche, then we are in serious denial at best, or simple self-inflicted delusion.

Deeper down
The third general theme of discussion formed around people with mental health issues and the general moral compass of our culture. This gets much closer to the core issue. But alas, morality cannot be legislated. Well, it can be put into law, but it won't just happen because of a law, no matter how well enforced.

How about the prevention of violence by the mentally ill? First of all, who determines which people are at risk for violence? How does one go about doing this? It's a rather impossible task to accomplish. Too many variables and factors are involved, and the bigger issue would be those in contact with whoever could be considered potentially dangerous. Dr M Scott Peck looked into this issue in his book, "People of the Lie."

Determining who is bent towards violent, evil action is not easily discerned. Ultimately, it's a people problem. All of us have a certain capacity for doing terrible things. It's called selfish human nature. When self-indulgence and self-exaltation (and other self absorbed characteristics) go unchecked anyone can be self-destructive, and this can spin off into violence towards others.

A cursory view of un-rewritten history (think– non-politically-corrected) brings the reality of human evil into sharp focus. It is easy to blame tyrants such as Hitler, but what about the many people who played a part in his spectacle of evil? The problem of evil is an internal one. Whether we choose it or not, it coexists in our world with good—moral, ethical and spiritual goodness. 

External restrictions and controls will never fix this problem. It might slow it down a bit, for a while, but it won't solve the problem. It requires a change in human nature. An internal change. One impossible for humans to bring about on their own.

Can we fully understand the power and nature of evil? Perhaps not. Even so, it's real. When innocents are killed it is incomprehensible, regardless if it takes place at an elementary school, an island retreat (Norway), or the region surrounding Bethlehem.

The truly innocent One
The story of King Herod's senseless, brutal massacre stems from jealous insecurity, after hearing of a newborn king of the Jews (Jesus). But this innocent child escaped his terror. Later, willingly, Jesus submitted Himself to the murderous plot of Jewish leaders and the complicity of a Roman ruler. Even at 33 years old, Jesus was still innocent—sinless.

His innocence (sinlessness) was sacrificed for man's lack of innocence (sinful nature). This is the only solution for evil—an internal change, a change of inner nature. Only by trusting in Him and His work of redemption upon the cross can we hope to escape the power of evil. Will it remove the presence of evil in the world? Not until people's hearts are changed and they receive a new nature.

I look forward to the day when God will end evil's reign for good (Rev 21:1-4). Until then, I must continue resisting evil in my own life, and spread the message of the only solution I know. I choose to look beyond the killing of innocents to the only One I know to be truly innocent. He is the judge, not me. He is the One who will resolve all things in His time (Eccl 3:1-8, 11).

How will you process senseless violence? What will you, and can you, do about it? It is your choice, each of us, and it is a daily choice to be made.

Broken

Once again, hearts are broken with news of the shooting tragedy in Newtown, CT. The senselessness of it. The inevitable question why? The conflicted feelings of hate, love, outrage, compassion, hurt, and compassion.

How does one make sense of it? We can't, not really. The brokenness and emptiness that gnaws at the heart of families who lost children outstrips words and attempts to console or explain. Sadly, some will seize the event as a platform to clamor for change, seek blame, pontificate, or sensationalize. But tragedies such as this bring opportunity for reflection and compassion.

As with previous shooting tragedies, many Christian believers and leaders mobilize to pray and bring comfort to the victims and families of the community, and the students and staff of the school. This outreach of love and empathy will be overlooked by the media for the most part. This is a good thing, so it will not be spotlighted and sensationalized. The families and community will know and that's what matters.

Opportunity
Words fall woefully short in tragic times, so actions and presence must take their place. As a young pastor, I learned early on that the most valuable thing I could offer was practical assistance and a commitment to be present as needed, often in silence.

I saw how valuable those simple things were, as I watched family and friends and people in the church move into action with meals, practical help and silent comfort. My role was to assist with needed arrangements, pray, and console with silent presence, and a simple touch of compassion when appropriate.

Being at the side of parents who lose children in tragic accidents and events brings a helpless feeling, even though we want to sooth their ache. Time doesn't heal all hurts, but as time passes the ache can become endurable.

My wife and I have been on the receiving end of compassion after a senseless loss of life. We went through the shock, the sadness, the questions, and vacuous sense of loss. Yet we experienced immense consolation from God and the many who reached out to us with compassion.

Reflection
Whenever I have the responsibility and privilege of leading a funeral or memorial service, I see it as a time of reflection and assessment. Not just for those attending the service, but for myself as well.

Life is fragile, very fragile. Death is an enemy, a cruel indifferent enemy. Hope is a necessity in times of tragedy and needs to be genuine. Memories aren't what's left over, but treasures to be valued. Our whole life is a dynamic collection of memories, experiences, and relationships.

Those who were killed, especially the young children, were precious living beings cut off from life in a violent manner. No words remove the sting or explain the tragedy. We are at a loss, and as our president expressed, "Our hearts are broken."

This event may indeed be indicative of a cultural sickness of our nation's brokenness and lostness. But it's more of a worldwide human reality. Horrific tragedies take place throughout the world every day, but go unnoticed except by those immediately affected.

Hope
What hope is there to heal this brokenness? Is there a resolution to this vast lostness? Yes indeed, but it requires humility and trust to embrace it.

Is God just standing by watching it all take place while we struggle with such tragedies? No. He also has known the loss of a Son who was murdered unjustly, and He is able to relate to each of us personally (Hebrews 2:9-10, 14-18). God is love (1 John 4:16). God is merciful and compassionate (Heb 4:15-16).

God has made a way to escape the madness of a world that seems bent on destruction (Matthew 11:28-30). And He has and will resolve all the senseless tragedies and questions of life on this earth for those who trust in Him. One day it will make sense, until then we move forward by faith—our trust in His faithfulness.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Now God’s presence is with people, and he will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them and will be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death, sadness, crying, or pain, because all the old ways are gone.” The One who was sitting on the throne said, “Look! I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this, because these words are true and can be trusted.” (Revelation 21:3-5 NCV)

Small Biz Missions


Last weekend—in between huge shopping days, Black Friday and Cyber Monday—small businesses were spotlighted on Small Business Saturday. That's pretty tough competition. How do you compete with a stampede of "blowout deals" and stay-at-home shoppers who don't have to pay sales tax?


Last Sunday I visited a good-sized local church who were featuring a well-known, multi-million dollar international mission. From what I know, this mission is a good organization doing a good work in the name of Jesus. I laud the church and pastor for their enthusiasm and commitment in support of this kind of ministry.

My wife and I listened to the impassioned reasoning to support this ministry related to the Scripture text for the morning's message. An appeal was made for people to commit (ie: sponsor a child). As I listened, I couldn't help see a comparison (on the same weekend) to Small Business Saturday sandwiched between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and the myriad of small missions and not-so-well known (even unknown) missionaries and national pastors throughout the world.

Small businesses can't compete with WalMart-type (or Amazon, etc.) big businesses. Neither can smaller ministries and missions compete with larger, more corporate-style ministries—nor should they compete with them. You might wonder why use the word compete in relation to ministries? It's reality. I know this from the perspective as a pastor and missionary, but that's another issue.

This kind of comparison is an apple-oranges thing. They're really not comparable. Just as small businesses are more locally connected and relational (at least have the potential to be), so also with smaller ministries. Each has their place and purpose.

Most missionaries and ministries don't have the budget nor time available for getting better known. They're too busy and committed to what God has called them to do.

So here's a sampling of a few ministries I know and appreciate that represent the tens of thousands of other faithful and fruitful ministries that are often unknown or unnoticed by most of us. Of course, God knows them because He called them and stands with them day by day.

I'll include some links below (where possible) and a brief description of their ministries (who, what, where). Check them out and pray for them, they'll appreciate it. Acknowledge them (maybe on social media if they are ok with it) and even consider helping them out with some support.

I'm thankful for Shepherd's Staff Mission Facilitators for the way they help many smaller ministries, and for our being part of this ministry for several years. Visit their site to see the many missionaries and missions they assist, including ours (we're in the list and at the bottom of the page as Rainbow Village Ministries).

Missionaries and Ministries (their names have embedded links to click on)—
Patrick and Shari Bailey— ministry among indigenous people of the Philippines and beyond
Eric and MJ Johansen— working with indigenous people in Thailand and beyond
Brian and Betty Vander Kodde— church planting and discipling in Peru
Jeff and Lilia Roenspie— church planting, discipling and literacy work in Mexico
Jonathan and Adrienne Ferguson— pastoring and discipling in Kenya
Bruce Sonnenberg— established an educational support ministry for those affected by HIV/AIDS with missions throughout the world

These are but a handful of the many thousands, including national pastors and leaders in every nation in the world, who serve the Lord faithfully. Blessings upon them all!



Thankful?

What are you thankful for? Are you thankful? I know, Thanksgiving is past, but I thought I'd ask after all the hoopla of the weekend. Sadly, a holiday set aside for national gratitude and reflection has been usurped. It's typically referred to as T-Day or Turkey-Day and has become an excuse for excessive eating and spending, with a lot of football watching and beer drinking. 


It's easy to become cynical and pessimistic about the state of the world around us, which inevitably breeds the same in our heart and mind. It leaks out through our words and permeates our thinking. The only solution and resolve is choosing to be thankful—grateful for what is good in our life. This was the intent of the first national observance by President George Washington, and the later proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. [For more historical insight, check out Wikipedia's Thanksgiving link.]

Perhaps it's my 60's-era perception of it, but it seems like the whole weekend has become way too focused on materialistic pursuits. Black Friday used to start at 5:00 am, but now it's midnight. Sadly, I must admit that I'm not immune to it, but it still bothers me to be so pre-occupied and seduced by it all.

Sad or glad? It's a choice. I'll choose to be glad through gratefulness. One of my favorite verses in the Bible on thankfulness is found in Colossians 3:15-17. It intrigues me that in each admonition of all three verses (in most versions) is the exhortation to be thankful. The other practical element of these verses speaks to how we are made.

In the margin of my Bible(s) I wrote three words— heart, mind and body. The encouragement of verse 15 is to let the Lord's peace rule (like a football ref) in our heart— and be thankful. The next verse admonishes us to let God's Word dwell—live in and permeate—our thoughts in a full and deep way. And don't forget—with thankfulness! And finally, whatever you do (word or deed-wise) do it so that God is honored in your life example. Again, do it with thankfulness.

This isn't a self-help formula or DIY plan. It says "let...." That is, allow this attitude to govern and prevail in your heart, mind and actions. It's a choice. Have a Happy Thanksgiving every day!

What input do you choose for what rules your heart, mind and actions? The kingdom of the world around you, or God's kingdom? Cynicism or thankfulness?

I know what I choose, especially when I find myself drifting into the prison of pessimism. I choose the prism of praise. It's healthier and much more fun.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Col 3:15-17 NIV84)