life story

Passion and Reason

Photo credit: unsplash.com_SRingler Preachers are often portrayed in unflattering ways in movies. Often as some caricature that doesn't resemble the typical pastor of a church. To be sure, plenty of charlatans have filled TV screens and paced across stages.

Let's face it, a typical church pastor appears average and boring compared to the exaggerated portrayals of preachers in films. It's easy to poke fun at these emotional and bigger than life caricatures.

Most churches have pastors who are overworked and underpaid. I know many that are and remember my early years as a pastor. The charlatans and caricatures are the exception, not the rule.

Persuasion and instruction

Preaching is persuasive by nature.

A much better example of a preacher is the famous Billy Graham, or Luis Palau, or Greg Laurie who's known for his Harvest Crusades.

These men can teach from the Bible, but they are best known as preachers—men with a gift for evangelism with persuasion.

Teaching is instructional and appeals to the reasoning mind.

Pastor Chuck Smith, founder of the Calvary Chapel movement, was an excellent teacher. He was a prime example for many other fine teachers associated with Calvary Chapel.

Most pastors are called on to do both—teach and preach.

Paul our example

This is the example given by the apostle Paul throughout Acts. Most of us learn to flow from one role to another without consciously doing so. At least, that's my observation over the years.

And he [Paul] went into the synagogue and spoke boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God. Acts 19:8 (NKJV)

I see the role of a pastor being a lot like parenting.

As much as parents need to instruct their children, we need to become more persuasive than instructional at times—“Get in there and clean up that room right now!”

But how does this relate to those who aren't pastors?

2 Different conversations

We are all called to fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15). Most of the time this takes place in one-on-one encounters between us and someone we want to see come into God's kingdom.

Not long ago, I met up with two young men for coffee and conversation. As I shared my thoughts as a pastor, I noticed two men at a table next to us.

One had a Bible in hand as he spoke to the other man with passion. I could see their discussion get pointed, while the one with the Bible both exhorted and pleaded with his friend.

Two groups of friends, two different approaches to conversation.

Sometimes there's a need for persuasion and passion, but most of the time we just need to share what God has made known to us—about Him and His kingdom.

Some questions and an encouragement

How recently have you spoken to someone about the kingdom of God, or shared the gospel message?

Are you more of a persuader or someone who likes to reason things out?

Find someone to share God's message of redemption with this week, and share what God's revealed to you recently with a friend.


This is a guest post originally posted on Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale's Daily Devo blog. Here's the link– Passion and Reason

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!

Who Is Jesus...Really?

Photo credit: Unsplash.com_mhull Surveys. Opinion polls. Americans seem to have an insatiable appetite to know what other people think about... fill in the bank.

For all the mining of opinions and the flood of information available, what do we really know? Are we truly the most informed generation in history?

We know a lot of minutiae about a lot of things. This helps us in trivia games, but doesn't answer life's big questions.

A valuable question

At the beginning of this story (Matthew 16:13-20), Jesus asks His disciples a question, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” He wanted to know what the disciples heard among the people.

Yet, He was far more concerned with what the disciples thought, as seen by His second question to them.

In sharing the gospel with others, we need to be mindful of what people are thinking and saying about who Jesus is. It is valid to ask people what their perception of Jesus is before launching into a presentation of the gospel.

Knowing how other people perceive Jesus should be a factor in how the gospel is told or related.

[bctt tweet="Knowing how other people perceive Jesus should factor into how we share the gospel"]

The wrong approach

When zealous believers approached me during my spiritual search, I would hear, “you can become a Christian and still have fun!” One time I was approached while in an altered state of mind and told I could still “own a sports car and become a Christian.”

Having a sports car was the farthest thing from my mind at the time! It did not attract me to Christianity.

Although well-intentioned, this approach to share the gospel was off target. My biggest need was getting my eyes off what I wanted, or what I thought could bring fulfillment in my life.

A frame of reference

Genuine questions can reveal where people stand on spiritual matters, and their opinion about Jesus.

Asking about a person’s life can open them up to hear God’s Story. If a person’s life story is full of difficulties, or reveals a searching for spiritual truth and significance in life, it opens an opportunity for connecting them with God.

Presently in America, more and more people, especially young adults, have a limited understanding of Jesus. They may know more about Buddha or Mohammed than Jesus. Everyone needs some frame of reference, a touchstone, to understand spiritual truth.

[bctt tweet="Everyone needs some frame of reference, a touchstone, to understand spiritual truth"]

Spiritual truth is conceptual, abstract, and intangible, yet we live in a material world. If we don’t perceive what their perception is about Jesus, the Bible, or other spiritual truth, we give them information they can’t process.

We need to know

In contrast, we may pay more attention to what others have to say than we should. Many people are intimidated to share their faith story, fearing rejection. Others are unsure of what to say or how to say it.

Every believer needs to know what he or she believes about Jesus, and why it’s believed—an understanding rooted in a genuine personal relationship with God.

[bctt tweet="Every believer needs to know what he or she believes about Jesus, and why it’s believed"]

When the gospel is shared with sincerity of heart and in simple words, it is more apt to be heard.

Who do You say Jesus is?

Then Jesus asks His second far more pointed and important question, “Who do you say that I am?”

It was a question of progress for the apostles. Were they grappling with the same question, or were they sure in their hearts? Ultimately, everyone must answer this question. One day, all people will answer this question in God’s presence.

What is your belief?

Other opinions aside, what is your belief? What others say may be of interest, but what is your own belief? How would you answer the question of who Jesus is?

If you are a Christian believer—that is, you have a personal relationship with the Lord, and you’ve experienced a spiritual rebirth—you should be able to answer this question. But, how would you answer? How would you describe who Jesus is to someone else?

Truth is revealed by God

Spiritual truth can only be conveyed if a person understands it in his or her own spirit. As the apostle Paul says, “ . . . not in words taught us by human wisdom, but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words” (1 Cor 2:13).

It is not knowledge of words, written or spoken. God through the Holy Spirit must reveal spiritual truth. It is expressed in words, but understanding and acceptance is God’s work in a person’s heart and mind.

What are your thoughts about Jesus? Do you know who He is?

Do you know Him personally and tell others about your relationship with Him?


Next week I'll continue to look at who Jesus really is. This post is an excerpt from my book on the Essential Gospel. Here's another related post– The Core of the Gospel

To learn more about Jesus and the gospel, get a copy of my book– The Mystery of the Gospel

 

What's Your Story Morning Glory?

Photo credit: www.sunset.com I remember this phrase when I was young. It's a variation of asking the simple question, "What's up?" or "What's going on?" I know there are at least two songs with this as a title, but I'm not referring to them.

The morning glory is a climbing vine with beautiful, white, blue, pink, and deep purple blossoms. The blossoms open in the early morning and close as the day moves to evening. I remember my first encounter with their beauty as a young boy at a daycare center.

I still admire their simple beauty and prolific trumpet-like blooms. My favorite is the deep bluish-purple, but they're all beautiful. Just as their trumpet shape suggests, they shout out beauty in the morning.

Each of us has a story, a life story. In Christian circles, we refer to them as testimonies. This comes from the idea of a witness who testifies what they've seen, or their version of an event. Hence, when someone tells the gospel story, it's often referred to as witnessing.

But as mentioned last week, witnessing or personal evangelism doesn't come easy to many of us. So, I introduced a basic outline for becoming an evangelist without really trying. There are three general points in this outline—keep it simple, keep it personal, and keep alert for opportunities. Today I want to explore the first point—keep it simple.

Start with what you know—your own life story

All of us have a life story

As a young believer, I remember hearing other people share their testimony at church. Some of these testimonies were so vivid and amazing, it may be feel like I didn't have much of a testimony. My life and conversion seemed boring compared to some of the stories I'd hear.

You don't need to compare or compete with others

This is the first thing we need to get squared away—we all have a valuable story to tell. It doesn't need to compare to sensational ones we might hear, it just needs to be genuine. Isn't that the catch-phrase nowadays, to be genuine and real? Who knows your life story better than you?

Your life story is genuine

Your life story is real. You don't need to embellish it to make it worth hearing, but you do need to be able to share it in a brief, clear way. Here's a basic guide if you're not sure how to do this— Guidelines_life-story

Don’t worry about what you don’t know

Most people worry about how to handle questions or challenges when sharing their faith. Don't worry about what you don't know! Focus on what you do know. The point is not to argue theology or get into debates with people. The point is to share your life story with them.

You don't need to have all the answers. You already know the answer. The answer isn't a doctrine or theological point, but a personal encounter with Jesus. So, just share your own encounter with Jesus. It's unique to you, even if it isn't sensational.

Take a cue from Jesus. When challenged by the Jewish leaders, who tried to find fault with Jesus, He side-stepped their challenge with the truth, or put it back to them with a question of His own (Matthew 21:23-27).

If you want to become more knowledgable in how to answer others, here's a resource you can get— Stand to Reason-Tactics

Engage people

When you gain some confidence to share your faith with others, the next thing to do is engage people in conversation. How? It's really not that hard. Think about the conversations you have throughout a day—at work, at a store, in a restaurant, with a neighbor, and others.

Most of the time you can start a conversation with a few simple questions. How's your day going? Do you have family in this area? Do you like your work? You get the idea. Much of the time you will find people willing to talk and open to sharing something about their own life story.

You can also speak something encouraging to a person. I'm pretty sure there's not excessive encouragement thrown around these days. If anything, there's a lot of cynicism, criticism, and complaining. Encouragement is a welcome break from all of that. It may be a start to a conversation, or starting point to develop a relationship with someone.

Once you engage people in conversation, whether for the first time or as a follow-up to previous conversations, you can look for an open door to share your faith. I'll talk more about that in a later post. But a book that expresses this well is, Just Walk Across the Room, by Bill Hybels.

Find a Bible story that matches

This is something that may take some time to develop, but it's a great way to tie your life to a story in the Bible. The great thing about the Bible is that it is honest. It's not a string of fairly tales, but of real life stories.

Many stories reveal the not-so-pleasant side of people. Other stories show great transformations (as in the Gospels or in Acts). The point is to link a story in the Bible to some part of your own life story. I'll also share more about that in a later post.

Just get started!

The first thing to do is get familiar with your own story. Work on getting it clear in your own heart and mind first. Then, try sharing it with others. You can start with people you know first—like a friend, a spouse, or a co-worker.

Then look for opportunities to engage people in conversation. You don't need to be clever, but you do need to be genuine in your interest in them. People can tell when you're just asking to set up what you want to talk about. So, get others talking about their life, the opportunity will come to share your life story after a while.

We'll look at all this more next week. Until then— What's your story morning glory?

How to Be an Evangelist—Without Really Trying

Photo credit: www.deathtothestockphoto.com/ What comes to mind when you hear the word evangelist? Do you think of a fiery preacher challenging you to "Repent!"? Nowadays that might be more of a caricature than common occurrence.

How about the words personal evangelism? Do you shudder at the thought of going out to witness with gospel tracts?

If the idea of personal evangelism or trying to be an evangelist doesn't appeal to you, keep reading! There is a way to share your faith in a personal, natural and easy way.

Calling, commitment, and a command

I know a young man who has a gift and boldness to engage people in conversation about Jesus and offer to pray for them. I have friends who go into neighborhoods every couple of weeks to knock on doors and share the gospel. A neighbor friend of mine often goes out on a roadside with a placard that reads, "Jesus loves you!"

I admire my friends for their commitment and calling. I've done similar things, but it is not my personal calling. My oldest son and I traveled to Scotland on an evangelistic outreach many years ago. It was a great time of ministry, and it helped confirm that I am not an evangelist.

I'm called to disciple people.

And yet, what is called the Great Commission (Matt 28:19; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:47-48; Acts 1:8) is not an optional suggestion, it is a command. The apostle Paul told Timothy to, "...do the work of an evangelist...." (2 Tim 4:5 NKJV).

So, there is a responsibility for every believer to share their faith with others. Even when it's not our calling, we can commit to do something, even when it doesn't come easily.

But, if evangelism is not your thing, here are some thoughts on how to be an evangelist without really trying.

Keep it simple

  • Start with what you know—your own life story
  • Don't worry about what you don't know
  • Stick to what you know and engage people at that point
  • Find a story in the Bible that relates to your own life story

Keep it personal

  • Engage people by asking them about themselves
  • Find a common point of interest or connection as you talk with people
  • Think of a story that connects with the person's life you have engaged to talk
  • Use plain and simple words and avoid using Christianese

Keep alert for opportunities

  • Look for opportunities in everyday life
  • Get more familiar with various stories in the Bible
  • Pray and trust God for opportunities to engage people in conversation
  • Follow up with the people with whom you share your faith

Give it a try

Over the next few weeks, I hope to dig into each of these thoughts in more depth. The broad view of it can be summed up in these three admonitions—keep it simple, keep it personal, and keep open and be ready.

I've posted on this general idea of sharing your faith before, but want to be more instructive with these new posts.

Here are a couple of posts I hope will be helpful to you—

Need Some Help on How to Share Your Faith?

Need Some Help on How to Share Your Faith? (Part 2)

How Does Your Story Connect with God's Story?

Tell me what you think—

What are your experiences with sharing your faith?

What are the challenges you've faced with sharing your faith?

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

Need Some Help on Sharing Your Faith? (part 2)

©word-strong/tkbeyond 2013 Several years ago I escorted a couple young missionaries from our Bible College in the Philippines to Thailand. These two young women were graduates, and were called as missionaries to Thailand.

They grew up in very simple and poor homes (by American standards). They weren't highly educated, but did well in their studies and ministry at our school. I helped get them settled in Thailand with the American missionary who oversaw their internship.

[This is the second part (follow-up) post of an earlier post this week.]

I knew this missionary from previous ministry trips to Thailand, and through relationship with others in ministry. He had several years ministry experience within Thailand and was fluent in the Thai language (a complex and tonal language).

He briefed them on what life would be like in Thailand, the challenges they would face within the culture and with the language. They would begin with at least six months to a year in language school. He also made it clear they would not be able to do much in the way of sharing their faith. This proved to be partly accurate.

A real-life example

It was a big adjustment for these young Filipino women. They had not lived on their own and away from their families. They experienced the sense of isolation all missionaries encounter living in a foreign country. But Filipinos, by nature, are very social beings. They are gifted (I believe by God in a strategic sense) to learn other languages and adapt to other cultures easily.

In the small sparsely furnished apartment they lived in, they began to build relationships. Soon they offered to pray for the landlord and her family. In a fairly short time, they led one of their neighbors into a personal relationship with the Lord. They had developed great favor with the Thai people they lived among.

This is no small thing within Thailand, a staunchly Buddhist nation. In fact, to be Thai is to be Buddhist. Many Thais who hear the Gospel are open and responsive, but afraid they will be giving up their Thai identity if they are no longer Buddhist.

Following Jesus' example

Consider how this took place. These young women reached out in friendship to the Thai people they were living among. Since they were learning the language, they did a lot of listening and asking questions. It sounds like what we read about Jesus as a young man in the temple (Luke 2:41-50).

Too often, what is simple and almost effortless is unappreciated or discounted because of its simplicity. (Click to Tweet) I believe personal, intentional evangelism is one of those things.

Sharing your faith in this simple manner requires no extensive training or education. It requires a willing heart and an interest in others, including their eternal destiny. A knowledge of your own life story, and of God’s story, is also important.

It is helpful to have a sense of how to share your own life story in a simple, brief and genuine way. (Click to Tweet) **

This would take some thought, maybe writing a few things out to be ready to share it with others when opportunity comes.

Knowing God’s story is gained by reading through the Gospels and becoming familiar with God’s story of redemption for humanity. Of course, knowing God’s story can be developed further, but it’s not a requirement to share the Gospel in a simple and genuine way.

©word-strong/tkbeyond_2013

The hardest part is to just do it

Being ready and willing is important, but at some point there is the step of actually engaging someone in conversation that requires action on our part.

It's much easier to learn to engage people in conversation without the pressure of having an agenda to “save them.” (Click to Tweet)

Showing interest in others is the first step. Just as the young women did in Thailand, adapt your approach to the people you want to engage in conversation. This requires observation. Get to know them as they are, and relate to them in a way that best connects for them.

It also coincides with the first step of the basic call of discipleship, “If anyone would come after me, let him (her) deny himself...” (Matt 16:24). In other words, learn to be more interested in others than yourself.

Look beyond your own agenda or scheme of sharing your faith. Engage people at their level of faith (or lack of it), and their life experience.

Sharing your faith is not complicated, it's simple. (Click to Tweet)

Here's a summary—

  • Know God's story and be able to tell it in your own simple words (IYOW)
  • Build relationship with others– get to know them as a person
  • Be genuine
  • Keep your own life story short and simple
  • Be ready for whatever opportunities come to share your faith

** Here is a simple outline for sharing your own life story (testimony)— Guidelines-Pers Testimony_2013

If this post (parts 1 & 2) have been helpful, please share it with others.

You can use the share buttons at the bottom of this post, or copy and paste the link into your own post or comment on the social media of your choice. Thanks for reading (and sharing)!

What gives Words their Meaning?

Nehemiah 8:8 Learning English is difficult. It has a strong emphasis on grammatical structure.

I remember weeks in grade school and middle school diagramming sentences. I don't think that's done anymore. Pity.

It shows in the way people speak and write. And pity because, I think every student should endure the same torture (just kidding).

English!

English words can have different meanings and pronunciations, but the same spelling. Did you read the book? She read the book. The book was red. Imagine how difficult this is for someone learning English as a second language (ESL)!

How about two words that sound the same, spelled differently, mean different things, and used in the same sentence! He read the red book.

Context is important

This week I talked to two different people who used the acronym PT. One spoke of physical therapy, the other referred to physical training. How could I know the difference? The first person described what he meant as he explained what he was studying. The other one is in the military—known for their use of acronyms—who talked about his physical conditioning.

It's the context a word is used in that gives it meaning.

The one speaking (or writing) has something in mind when using a certain word, phrase or acronym. However, those listening or reading may not be familiar with how the person using the word intends for it to be understood. How many times public figures (mostly politicians) say their words were "taken out of context" when what they say stirs controversy. Christian believers, are you getting where I'm going with this?

Disconnect

This past week, someone asked me what my occupation is. My answer was that I'm a writer and teacher. The inevitable next question is, "Of what?" Right now I'm involved with three part-time jobs to pay the bills, but for the majority of my life I've been a teacher and leader. The transition from teacher-leader to writer-occasional teacher, and as an online teacher-writer, has been a steep learning curve.

When asked what I wrote, I told of my recently published book and my current writing project. I explained my concern of many Christian believers not understanding the speech they use, called Christianese, nor did non-believers understand these words.

As we talked about this, I could see it struck a chord in her heart. Although her church background is different from mine, we both saw a major disconnect of young people from church, or Christianity in general.

Why? There are plenty of stats and opinions, but I believe one thing that goes unnoticed is this issue of Christianese. Christian believers need to speak in plain language, not an obscure form of it. If we want people to understand what we're saying, we need to make the meaning of it clear.

What is your experience with hearing Christian terms and Bible-talk?

Have you ever considered the language you use when talking about Christianity?

____________________________________________________________

For a funny look at Christianese check out this video by B.A.D.D.– Christianese

Here are some Scripture references that might help to make the point even clearer— Nehemiah 8:8, 12; Proverbs 1:2; 25:11; Luke 24:27

2 Families

Michael came to Rainbow Village with his younger brother when he was three years old. His story, like many others, has it's own sadness, which is why he was brought to us in 1992. This past week we had the blessing of seeing Michael and catching up on what's been going on in his life. Seeing him after so many years is an amazing encouragement to everyone at Rainbow.

Michael arrived at Rainbow this past week as Susan and I were leaving the US. He was smothered with love and acceptance by the ya-yas (the local dialect term for childcare attendants), his family at Rainbow. A few of the women remembered when he and his brother first came, and they accepted and loved them both into our Rainbow family. This week he got to experience a family reunion. We are always blessed when we have families return to Rainbow and we get to see those we've loved and cared for. Michael's family in Australia have cared for him since he was five, and they've done a great job! So, when his birth mother couldn't care for him, God gave him two families.

Michael's story is an encouraging one. But for many children who are abandoned, orphaned, or given up because of poverty, war, sickness, or other hardships, life doesn't always turn out so well. So, we are blessed to be a part of his and many other children's lives. It is a blessing to be a part of the conduit for God's love poured out on the little ones He brings into Rainbow's family.

We are blessed with a great staff and some great volunteers. They see their work as an opportunity to care for the children, not just a job to do. So, Susan and I are blessed to have them as family also.

As Michael said his goodbyes, it was a bittersweet time. When a strong caring relationship is built, it's always hard to say goodbye. But as our staff (and we) know, saying goodbye is something you have to get used to doing, too often.

Although we miss seeing our family in the US, we are blessed that they have been a part of the family at Rainbow. It is an extended family across the world, but it is a family nonetheless. We've seen this need for family in every child and every young woman who are part of Rainbow's extended family. It is the heart cry of every person on earth.

It is why we need to know God as our Father, to be part of His extended family. His heart cry, as seen in Jesus, is that we would know Him and be included in His family.

Reading through the Bible, especially in Genesis, it is easy to see how important and significant families are in life. How about you? How connected are you to your own family? How connected are you to other families? How connected are you to God and His family?

Book Signing

©tkBeyond_2012

Yesterday I had the privilege of sharing a message at my former home church and making my newly published book available. Because it was like "coming home" in many ways, I was asked to sign several of the books sold. It was a new and somewhat overwhelming experience.

It was also fun to reconnect with people my wife and I had built relationships with over the past several years. It was a privilege to share the message to the church family while their pastor (my good friend, Keith) was away doing ministry. They have been generous and faithful supporters for many years.

It was a busy weekend in many ways, so I'm behind in my usual posting. So, next week I'll resume the topic I left off from last week.

So far, I've gotten some good feedback from those who are reading through the book. If you haven't checked it out, here's the link– The Mystery of the Gospel. It's also available online through Amazon and Barnes & Noble, but it benefits me a bit more if you get it at the Westbow site (and the e-book is only $.99!).

I'm hoping to get the book in some local places (in the Jacksonville, FL area). If you've read it and like it, please post a review of it (on the site you buy it from and on FaceBook, Twitter, etc.) and spread the word. Thanks!

Stop it!

©123RF

Bob Newhart has a hilarious comedy skit as a psychiatrist. His therapy is a simple, two-word solution for problems—"Stop it!" If you've never seen it, click on the link ("Stop it!") for a good laugh, but keep reading!

If only solving life's problems were that simple! Well, in some ways it is. But, alas, many difficulties in life continue to trouble us. Why? Why don't we just stop doing some things, or start doing other things? The Apostle Paul addresses this in his letter to the Roman church (Rom 7:15-19). What got me thinking on this line was my reading in the book of Hebrews. It's a comprehensive look at how Jesus Christ fulfilled and superseded all that is written in the Old Testament Scriptures. After remembering the many heroes of faith in Israel's history, a strong exhortation is given in the next chapter.

Since we are surrounded by so many examples of faith, we must get rid of everything that slows us down, especially sin that distracts us. We must run the race that lies ahead of us and never give up. We must focus on Jesus, the source and goal of our faith. He saw the joy ahead of him, so he endured death on the cross and ignored the disgrace it brought him. Then he received the highest position in heaven, the one next to the throne of God. Think about Jesus, who endured opposition from sinners, so that you don’t become tired and give up.  (Hebrews 12:1-3 GW)

Over the years I've found that many Christian believers try to live as good Christians. My advice to them is—Stop it! Many might say, "But aren't we to lead lives pleasing to the Lord?" Of course we are, but we go about it the wrong way.

Being a Christian is not about trying to do better, it's about being. The popular saying of the Jesus Movement of the early 70's was, "It's not about religion, it's relationship." My children are my children, regardless of their behavior—they just are. They were born into our family, and although there was some labor on my wife's part, they did nothing to become our children and do nothing to maintain their place in the family as our children.

Over the past 20+ years, Susan and I have worked with abandoned and abused children and young women. Without exception, the most important thing for each of them was being connected to their family. In many cases, they needed a substitute family through adoption. It is amazing how strong a bond this is—the bond between child and parent.

In the case of the abused girls or young women, Susan and I, along with the extended family at Rainbow Village, became a surrogate family. This was and is important. We are known as "Mama and Papa" because of the relationship we have with them. This has been an important element in their recovery from abuse.

It works the same way with believers within the Body of Christ, the church community. It is an extended family. It is to be a place of healing and restoration. A place of nurture and growth. A place of belonging.

OK, so what about moving forward in this relationship with the Lord Jesus? Is it possible to just stop it when it comes to our struggle with sin and personal issues? This text in Hebrews (above) indicates this—at first glance.

Go back and look at those three verses (Heb 12:1-3) and observe it more carefully. There are a couple important keys to running the race and growing in faith. Next week I'll go over this. In the meantime, if you're trying real hard to be a Christian—stop it! Just be one. Just be a child of God who trusts in Him.

Simple

The central focus of Scripture is God, and His personal relationship with humanity whom He created. This is seen with Adam, the first person, and Abraham, the patriarch of ancient Israel. God spared Noah and his family in the ark when He brought a global flood on the earth. God gave the Law to Moses to define the personal covenant (agreement) between Israel and Himself. God made a prophetic covenant promise to David, the great and beloved king and poet of Israel. And God’s desire for reconciliation with every person culminated in sending His One and Only Son, Jesus.

An inherent responsibility rests upon every person in the world—to seek and know God personally. Every person is born with an innate desire for God. But along life’s way it can be displaced, to wither and die as a plant without water and sunlight. Who bears the responsibility for rescuing those who’ve lost this innate desire? God. And His means of doing this includes genuine believers as God’s agents of His kingdom.

For decades, even centuries, a measure of guilt and manipulation has been applied to those sitting in churches regarding this responsibility. Unfortunately, many sitting in the pews are neither ready, nor willing, to share God’s Story. Too many are tormented by failure or an indifference to the need. Guilt magnified by manipulation produces resentment, indifference, and condemnation. This is not what God intends. A different attitude and vision is needed.

Why not see this as opportunity rather than obligation? Responsibility is inherent within any freedom, and by its nature, freedom involves free will. Without free will freedom ceases to be freedom. Perception makes all the difference in the world to see either obligation or opportunity. The choice is ours.

God extends great freedom to those who trust in Him. It’s called grace—God’s loving kindness and favor. This grace is extended freely and received freely, and God desires for us to share it with others. God provides opportunities as we move through life and our lives intersect with the lives of others. Then it’s a matter of choice, not obligation. However, there needs to be a readiness and willingness to share this freedom we received.

At the beginning of this book I posed a question, “How can the Gospel be communicated so they can hear it?" They being people who seem closed or indifferent to hearing about God’s love as demonstrated through His Son, Jesus. It’s an important question that needs an answer. Here’s a real-life example of seizing opportunities for sharing God’s love.

I’m involved with a new church plant near my home. It’s filled with young believers, and I enjoy their fresh sense of love for God and simplicity of belief. At one of the home meetings, a few young people gave simple testimonies of sharing God’s love. It encouraged me to hear their simple approach of sharing their faith with people while riding a public bus. These single, Anglo young women met and talked with people of all walks of life as they rode the bus. Like rays of sunshine on a cloudy day, they brought God’s grace into people’s lives. Each conversation was different, as was each person encountered. It was a simple, uncomplicated process.

Sharing our faith story needs to be simple and uncomplicated. Amazingly, simple fits a child, an adult, someone who is not literate, or someone highly educated. However, speaking truth in your own words requires an understanding beyond the terms and words used. Early on, I learned a valuable lesson—if I can explain spiritual truth to a child, then I can explain it to anyone.

I’ve seen this proven over and over while teaching in other nations outside the US. Whether explaining servant leadership to pastors more familiar with a rigid, authoritarian approach to leading, or using a Bible story to explain discernment in a remote village church in Ethiopia—sharing God’s free gift of love needs to be said and done in a simple manner.

This is an excerpt from the epilogue section of my book just published and available at Westbow Press. Here's the direct link— http://tw.gs/z3vci

Home?

It's always with a bit of sadness that I go from one home back to the other, especially when traveling solo. After 3 weeks in the Philippines, it's time to return to my family in Florda. I miss my wife, children and grandkids, but I will be leaving our extended family at Rainbow.


I return to my family but I also return to my job at a small manufacturing company. I'm thankful for my job. In the current economic climate everyone who has a job should be thankful. But it isn't the quite work I've done for most of my life, not what I'm known for within the Philippines.

Walking the path of faith requires trust—implicit trust in God—a confidence that the current circumstances of life are preparation for whatever is next in life.

It has been said that a cross-cultural missionary only feels "at home" while traveling in-between their home on the field and their home of origin. I'm not so sure that's true. Perhaps it's just a reminder that those of us who are believers, citizens of God's Kingdom, don't have a permanent home in this world—Hebrews 11:13-16.


Where's your permanent home? What anchors your heart? What is the strongest pull on your heart? If home is where the heart is—what fills your heart?

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21)

These photo collages contain some of the treasure of my heart that I leave behind in our home on the field.


Spiritual Journey

©tkBeyond

Severe power outages crippled the Philippines in our first year there. Power outages continued in our city as more generating stations were built elsewhere. A geothermal plant in the mountains above us generates our island’s power. The steam is harvested from natural vents from a dormant volcano, a continual source of available energy. And yet, the power outages continued because of inefficient infrastructure to deliver the electric current. They were called brownouts because the power fluctuated so low that light bulbs and fans had too little power to run. Just before the outage, lights would dim and flicker before going out. When the lights go out it is pitch dark. The entire city is plunged into darkness so there’s no diffused light from other sources. The darkness is intense and disorienting. Until we had automatic emergency lights (with battery backup), everyone scurried around searching for a flashlight or emergency lamp to conquer the darkness. Even when an emergency lamp was found, it was typically uncharged and useless. Imagine this scenario with babies and young children frightened by the sudden darkness, crying, even screaming, as the search for light went on. Confusion reigned!

My spiritual journey was similar—a lot of confusion. Of course, not everyone gets thrown out of a church and called the devil,[i] but everyone deals with misunderstanding. A spiritual journey can be like groping for a flashlight in the darkness. When the flashlight is found or the light turned on, it’s much easier to see everything. All spiritual journeys aren’t dramatic, but can be disorienting.

Well-intentioned believers who spout Christian clichés contribute to some of the confusion, but they’re not the only reason for misunderstanding. When a person doesn’t know the way out of confusion, and can’t see beyond the darkness, help is needed. Until light and direction come, the way seems hidden.

Spiritual truth is a mystery to those who don’t understand it. That was my problem, and it’s a dilemma everyone faces. The Bible uses words like mystery and revelation, so it’s no wonder it seems like a mysterious book. The Greek word for revelation means a mystery that is revealed—it was hidden before, but is now revealed. God is a mystery to many, but He’s not mysterious. He is the One who reveals Himself and His truth, and desires all people to know Him personally and know His loving kindness.[ii]

But how does God reveal Himself and His truth? This question is at the heart of the spiritual journey—understanding the mystery of God and the mystery of the Gospel. God provided three primary means for people to know Him, with people the vector for all three—nature (creation), the Scriptures, and the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Triune God.

The work of creation was not complete until people were created, then God rested. Human beings, guided by God’s Spirit, recorded the Scriptures. God placed His Spirit into people who trusted in Him through His Son—after he sent His Son to live among people.[iii]

What's your spiritual journey been like? Do you feel you've arrived somewhere...or are you well on your way? How has God intersected with you in your life?

If you have a personal relationship with God already and are assured in your heart about eternity, look for someone to share it with, look for someone who may still be finding there way and be a light to them.

This is another excerpt from my book to be published soon. I'm also writing from the Philippines where I'll be doing some ministry for 3 weeks. Thanks for reading! ______________________________________

[i] A reference to my personal story in Chapter 1.

[ii] References— 1 Cor 2: 10, 14; 2 Pet 1:19–21; Acts 2:38-39; Ezek 18:23, 32; 1 Tim 2:4; 2 Pet 3:9

[iii] References— Gen 1:26-31; 2 Pet 1:19–21; Gal 4:4-7

Our Story and God's Plan

 

The movie, “The Passion of Christ,” surprised many people with its success, especially its strongest critics. It’s vivid portrayal of Christ’s death stirred strong emotions and was spoken against by believers in Christ and nonbelievers. Its purpose and intention was misunderstood by many people.
Some spoke blasphemous, sacrilegious things about the movie and its content, while others saw it as sacred. It impacted all who saw it one way or another, shocked by the graphic portrayal of the suffering and death of Jesus the Messiah. Many were moved to great emotion both during and following their viewing of it, and it took a personal toll on the director-producer and the star who portrayed Jesus.
Similar reactions can be seen in the account of Matthew 27:27-56. My question is, what follows the reaction? What impact lasts beyond the reaction? Unless it is understood, a person may be left with unresolved questions—What does it all mean? What makes this so significant? This story needs to be heard by the heart.
My wife and I have collected many stories over the years, while ministering in the Philippines and working with abandoned babies and children, and abused girls. Each child, young or old, has a story. Some stories are intensely heart wrenching. Freddy’s saga is an incredible story of neglect, tragedy, and disappointment, with an extraordinary resolve.
Freddy is one of three brothers who came to Rainbow Village. His older brother, Wilmer, was deaf and could not speak clearly. Both the younger brothers spoke with the same guttural, indistinguishable sounds as the oldest. When the brothers came to us, they were quarantined for a week out of concern for infectious hepatitis. Their father died of hepatitis after their young mother abandoned them. Their elderly grandparents cared for them the best they could, but locked them inside a small nipa hut all day as they went to work.
These boys had never seen white-skinned people before our family, nor electricity or indoor plumbing, and were unprepared for living in a clean, stable environment. They were scared, terrified, and they freaked out! Thankfully, we all survived that first week.
Not long after they arrived, we discovered the oldest brother had a major heart problem that required surgery we could not afford on missionary support. Amazingly, God provided the means for the surgery. It was successful, but there was a long recovery, and only a few months afterwards, a tragic fire swept through our new building. Freddy’s two brothers were among five children lost in that fire. We were all devastated, but Freddy had lost his only family.
Within a month after the fire, an Australian mission team arrived to help with the rebuilding process. One of the Aussie’s had taken a real liking to Freddy and believed he and his wife were to adopt him. Because Freddy was older (five years at that time), the Australian government wouldn’t allow a normal adoption. It’s a long convoluted story, but the only workable solution required Helen and Ferg to move to the Philippines for processing the adoption.
They were committed to it, so Ferg sold his business, moved his family to Dumaguete City, and worked alongside us for a couple years. Ferg and Helen were a great blessing, as friends and coworkers, but the adoption hit another snag. The Australian government was still unwilling to accept their case because of bureaucratic red tape. They were disconsolate and moved back to their home in Australia with their hearts torn out, as was Freddy’s.
Because Freddy’s case[i]had gone on so long, the adoption board insisted on matching him with a family, even if the family was not a great match. Freddy was excited—at long last he would have a family of his own! The wait was excruciating for him, for all of us. Finally the day came for his family to arrive, but the union did not go well. Nevertheless, Freddy put his best smile on and went off with the family, leaving his Rainbow Village family and home.
Less than two weeks later, the mother decided she didn’t want Freddy. Although rare, failed adoptions happen. Once again, Freddy was devastated. He was kept in Manila for therapy and placement, but we prevailed for his return to Rainbow with much pleading and intercession. Freddy returned, but a noticeable sadness and disappointment lingered in his heart.
One day, Susan sat on our porch watching the children play in the yard. Freddy ran up to her, handed her a crumpled paper, and ran back off to play. Scrawled on the paper Freddy had written, “I miss my mommy, my daddy, my lolo and lola (grandpa and grandma), Jesan and Wilmer (his brothers).”
Susan’s heart sank as she wondered, “How can I encourage him, Lord?” The story of Job came to mind, so she searched through the children’s Bible storybooks she had, but couldn’t find Job’s story—it’s not the usual child’s story. Eventually she found a readable version to share with Freddy. He listened to Job’s story of loss, injustice, and grief followed by great restoration. He turned to Susan and asked, “Does this mean I’ll have my own mommy and daddy and family again?”
“Yes! Yes,” Susan exclaimed! Freddy ran off all smiles with simple trust in this promise.
Soon Freddy was his usual charming and mischievous self, as he grew through puberty. And yet another twist in the story came, as if scripted for a movie. At a conference, the head of adoptions in Australia met the head of the international adoption board of the Philippines. Freddy’s case came up and they began to work on a solution—surely there was a way to legally place this young man with a family who loved him and never gave up on him. Amazingly, after much heartache and loss, Freddy had a family!

It was quite the reunion when Ferg and Helen traveled from Australia! Everyone at Rainbow was thrilled, though a little sad to say goodbye after so many years. We had a great sending off party, and Freddy and his folks have since returned for several visits. It is a remarkable story of hope lost and restored. Of course, there are many questions as to why God allowed so many roadblocks along the way? But, God had a plan all along.

What's going on in your life story? Are you wondering if God has a plan at work, or does it seem like your life is a random set of circumstances? Nothing takes God by surprise, though we are often unsettled by what takes place in our lives. Faith requires trust. Faith enables us to see beyond circumstances to see God's hand at work (Hebrews 11:1, 6).

This is another excerpt from the book to be published soon.


[i]Each child that comes to Rainbow Villageis under our care through the authority of the Philippine government’s Dept. of Social Welfare Development. Each child has a case file that tracks their life until they are adopted or reunited with their biological family.