Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Wedding

The wedding was simple.  No bridesmaids, groomsmen, ring bearer, candle lighter, or ushers.  Instead, family members read scripture; Andrea’s father and I prayed over the bride and groom.  My dear friend, Rev. Doug Helms presided and Selah Helms read a 10 year old letter from Jan written for this day.  While gazing at each other, David and Andrea shared from memory their self-written vows.  The ceremony glorified God in every way, as David and Andrea had purposed.  During the reception that followed, Sara, Hannah, Martha, and Jonathan sang “Welcome to the Family” to Andrea, then Andrea played “Happy Birthday” to me on her trumpet.

After their honeymoon in Costa Rica, the newlyweds will live in David’s house.  David will return to his job as a computer programmer at Texas Wesleyan University.  Andrea will tutor students in trumpet playing.  Sara continues her job as a graphic artist at the headquarters of Neiman Marcus, where she has worked for 7 years.  She has moved into the house of the secretary of Inglewood Baptist Church.  The house is less than 30 minutes driving distance to either David, Martha, or Jonathan. 

I spent one evening with Jonathan, who gave me a tour of his work place at the Dallas headquarters of Cisco – the world’s largest maker of networking equipment.  The lab Jonathan works in has nearly four-hundred 6 ft. tall racks of networking equipment arranged in long isles with bundled wiring running behind and overhead the units.  Jonathan works with engineers who are troubleshooting equipment problems at remote sites.  He is sharing a house with 2 other Christian men.

Martha is into her third month as a registered nurse at Baylor Hospital in Dallas.  She gave me a tour of the medical ICU unit where she works.  The technology amazed me.  Each nurse is assigned 2 patients who are usually in critical condition.  During each 12 hour shift, Martha monitors their equipment, dispenses medications, maintains records, and oversees patient care.  Last month, she moved into a nice little apartment not far from the hospital.  Martha plans to work at Baylor for the next 2 to 3 years, gaining needed experience, then setting her sight to overseas mission work.

After the wedding in Houston at Andrea’s home church, I spent 3 days with Hannah, who works just outside of Houston at the George Ranch, a living museum showcasing the lifestyle of Texans in the 1800’s.  The tour of the ranch takes about 4 hours, where one can explore restored homes, watch cowboys handle livestock, observe a working blacksmith shop, and learn about life in early Texas.  On Monday, Hannah’s day off, we toured NASA and enjoyed a seaside walk along Galveston’s shore.

It was a huge treat for me to spend time with each of my kids and to see where they live and work. I arrived back in the Philippines a couple of days ago.  For now I have no plans for another visit to the States.  The end of my term (if Southern Baptists provide enough support) is nearly 3 years away.  Until then, my focus is evangelizing the lost and discipling the saved, while depending on Skype to keep me connected with my kids.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Journey

My 4th grade teacher gave the class a writing assignment – Who do you want to be when you grow up?  I began my paper with, “I want too be a missunairy when I gro up.”  A few weeks earlier, a missionary had spoken at our church.  As a 10 year old child, something stirred in my heart as I listened to him describe the challenges and opportunities of ministering in a foreign land.  

During my last year of high school, I remember listening to a missionary from the Philippines share about her experiences during her first few weeks of living in a remote town in the southern island of Mindanao.  Once again, my heart stirred.  God was calling.  Interestingly, I arrived in that very town five years later as a single adult and began my own ministry there for one year.  I remember the hot and humid day when I shared the gospel to a group of farmers who had gathered in a dirt floored bamboo hut.  I told God that if this is what He wanted me to do for the rest of my life, I was willing.

Five years later, Jan and I had been married for two years and she was pregnant with David.  We had just been accepted by the Foreign Mission Board.  Now we gathered with about 40 other appointees at the Virginia headquarters to discuss where in the world we would go.  To illustrate what a sample request from the field looked like, the moderator handed out a personnel request for, of all places, a career missionary for Panay Island, Philippines.  The description and the needs of the place grabbed our hearts.  Once again, God spoke.  Six months later, Jan and I arrived on Panay Island to begin our missionary journey.

And what a journey it has been!  I have been super blessed to share the gospel with thousands of Filipinos and see many of them born into God’s kingdom.  Churches have been started.  Filipino men and women have matured in their faith.  A few have even gone on to other nations as missionaries.  Just this morning I spoke via skype to a lady who Jan and I helped train.  She is now working as a teacher in Vietnam where she has been instrumental in starting two churches and has seen dozens of people come to know Christ.

Last September, we learned that our organization could no longer support the number of missionaries we had on the field.  Our numbers had to be reduced by 15%.  A generous volunteer retirement incentive was offered.  For the past 2 months I have prayed, as many others have.  Nothing in my time with the Lord told me that it was time for me to leave.  So, yesterday, I sent in my Letter of Intent to stay.  If the Board doesn’t arrive at the 15% reduction, I still may be asked to leave or relocate.  But I will face that decision if and when it comes.  My journey continues, at least for now.

Please pray for the many who heard God say that it was time for them to return to the States for a new phase of ministry.  Of the dozen or so families we have here in the Philippines, half will be leaving.  They are precious people who have been greatly used by God during their many collective years in this country.  God’s kingdom here will be hurt by their absence.  I wish Southern Baptists would give more to keep them here.  I hope Southern Baptists will give more this year to allow us who remain to continue the journey of proclaiming Christ to all nations.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Our Lady of Casanayan

In 1829, Maria Basanes died from a heart attack at the age of 47.  She was buried in the town of Casanayan in the far northeast corner of Capiz Province.  Ten years later, the cemetery had to be relocated.  During the transfer, Maria’s coffin fell open.  To the surprise of the workers, Maria’s body was perfectly preserved, so the story goes.  The locals declared it a miracle, propped up her clothed body inside a tall glass cabinet, and set in the corner of a small house.  To this day, the faithful come to sit in front of Maria with their rosary beads and pray for miracles in their own lives.

In 1999, I traveled to Casanayan to attend a funeral.  With time to spare, I made a side trip to see the Lady of Casanayan.  I stepped inside the house where two ladies were seated counting their prayers with rosaries.  In front of them, in the corner cabinet, was Maria.  Poor Maria.  The past 170 years hadn’t been good to her.  Her “perfectly preserved” body was nothing but coal-black leather skin covering frail decayed bones, what you would expect for someone her age.  I guess the imagination can run wild when folks are desperate for a miracle.

This morning, I returned to Casanayan, a 3 hour drive weaving through corn fields and mountain passes.  My friends and I conducted a training for about 30 people, crowded in a hollow-block chapel with a tin roof and dirt floor.  Palm and banana trees shaded nearby bamboo houses.  About 40 feet away, the ocean tossed waves onto the sandy beach, where we baptized several people earlier this year.  Now, God’s kingdom has an outpost in this remote town.  After the training, I offered to take my friends to meet Maria Basanes, the Lady of Casanayan.  They declined, but said that the story sounded familiar to other such stories throughout the country where superstitions and folk-lore abound. 

I reflected on the fact that the Philippines has a tremendous degree of religious freedom, much more so than present-day America.  In the past, I have shared the gospel in public schools.  Teachers will dismiss their class in order to allow their students to hear the American who can speak their language.  I have conducted Bible studies inside City Hall.  We’ve showed The Jesus Film in the town square.  I can pass out gospel tracs at the airport.  Even street preaching is allowed.  A couple of weeks ago I preached in a public gym, with loud speakers broadcasting the love of Jesus. 

While such openness allows us to share God’s truths, it also brings opportunities for deception, with the Lady of Casanayan being one example.  In the air above the Philippine islands, spiritual battles are taking place between good and evil, between the servants of God and the angels of darkness.  Although the modern world does not give much attention to this country, God takes these battles seriously, for all people are of equal worth.  We take these battles seriously, too.  Thank you for your support in allowing us to be in the battle, and to “sound forth the Word of the Lord.”

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Stability of our Times

Isaiah 33:6 says that the Lord “shall be the stability of our times.”  Such stability is desperately needed in a world that is more characterized by chaos and catastrophes.  A quick preview of the news headlines remind us that we are surrounded by declining moral standards in the west, increase terrorism in the east, an incompetent government at home, and rampant evil worldwide.

That’s when it is so refreshing to come into the presence of an eternal God who has seen it all before, who gives wisdom to understand the times we are in, and who knows how to quiet a troubled heart and give rest to a weary soul.  No doubt you are having to wade through the waters of adversity even today, at least to some degree.  As I write this, I pray that you would join me in focusing our attention heavenward, crying out for help, for wisdom, for strength.  Then let us fall back into the arms of the only One who can hold us securely – the Stability of our times.

My company (as we call it for security reasons) sent us our VRI (Voluntary Retirement Incentive) last week.  I think it’s quite generous, considering the financial challenges the company faces.  I know this is the last option our leaders have and they hate to make it as much as we hate to consider it.  We have until Nov. 2 to make a choice, then another month to make it final.  Even if some of us decide to stay on the mission field, future uncertainties remain.  So please pray for all of our personnel over 50 years old who must make difficult decisions in the days ahead.

It causes me no small amount of sorrow to think of having to leave the friends I have made here these past 30 years.  Men and women who Jan and I led to the Lord and discipled, who we have seen grow in faith, and who have become leaders in our churches.  Despite the decline of responsiveness worldwide that we have seen because of technology and western pop culture, there is still a responsiveness here.  How refreshing and joyful it is for me to see Filipinos embrace the Lord, follow His word, and experience a new way of life.  

If I leave, the BOOST project we started last year will have to close because those funds are tied to a missionary’s presence.  Then there are the Bible studies that will stop, trainings that will cease, and the personal encouragement that I can give will no longer be there.  On the other hand, our task from the beginning was to work ourselves out of a job, to train local leaders to become mighty in spirit, to rise up and do the work so that missionaries are no longer needed.  The fact that we can drastically reduce our number of missionaries in the Philippines may be a bitter/sweet testimony of success.

So, “Dear Lord, as I work through these conflicting feelings and perplexing days, please be the stability of my times.  Teach me deep lessons of truth that can only come from wrestling with difficult decisions.  Draw me near to You so that I can draw away from worries about the future.  And be with the wonderful people here, that they may continue to grow mighty in spirit, whether I’m here or not.”

Friday, September 4, 2015


A lonely dirt road snaked its way through tropical forest and lowland farms.  After about 30 bumpy minutes, we arrived at a cluster of native houses surrounded by palm covered hills.  We met with the village ‘captain’ and other officials, sharing with them about our agricultural/values training program.  Four days later, the ‘captain’ notified us that they will send at least 6 young men to the training, which begins this Monday, the 7th.  These 6 will join another 4 who will comprise our fourth batch of trainees.  Previous graduates have returned home to start Bible studies and serve their communities through livelihood impact projects.  It’s been incredible to see God change the lives of those who have gone through our 3-month, live-in BOOST training.

Not only are good things happening here, but good things are happening on the home front.  David and Andrea continue to prepare for their wedding day.  Both Hannah and Martha have jobs!  Hannah applied and was hired to be the assistant program director at The George Ranch Historical Park ( about 40 miles southwest of Houston.  It’s a working ranch that also showcases the work and lifestyle of Texas ranchers from the 1820’s until the 1930’s.  Hannah said that about half of the visitors are foreigners who want to see real Texas cowboys and experience the old west.  Next week, Martha will begin her new nursing job, working in the Intensive Care Unit of Baylor Hospital just east of downtown Dallas.  She will be moving into a nearby apartment.

So, my kids have begun leaving the nest for good.  David will stay in his house. Martha will move to Dallas. Hannah is already in Rosenberg, Texas.  Sara, now in her 8th year with Neiman Marcus, will be moving later this month to Grand Prairie, sharing a house with the church secretary.  Jonathan will move to Plano, Texas, where he is working full time and finishing his last 2 college courses, on track to graduate this December.  It’s a wonderful feeling to know all my kids are employed with good jobs, especially since I might be loosing mine!

Last week, the IMB sent word to all personnel that budgetary restraints were requiring them to trim our work force by up to 15%, about 700 people.  You can read more here:   The possibility of having to leave the work I love is certainly unwelcome news.  But, unlike our national government, we cannot spend more than our churches give.  So, as hard as it is to accept, I am choosing to trust our IMB president and board members that this is their only choice.  I’m also choosing to trust the Lord with my future and with the future of all those I work with here.

During the next few months, the Board will first ask for volunteers among those near retirement to take an early retirement.  Then it will give others an opportunity to transition out of the company.  Other measures may have to be taken by early next year in order to reduce our personnel to a level the IMB can afford.  With the decline of Christianity in America, I guess such measures shouldn’t come as a complete surprise.  But one would hope that Southern Baptists would never waver in our historical commitment to be global ambassadors of the gospel.  Well, regardless of what happens, God is sovereign and His plans will be fulfilled.  Day by day, working, trusting, and resting in Him.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Great News from David...


As many of you know, one month ago on July 19 I (David) asked an incredibly kind, intelligent, talented, and lovely woman, Andrea Byrne, to spend the rest of her life with me in marriage and service to our Lord.  We had spent the morning together with her family worshiping the Lord at Friendswood Friends, her home church near Houston, Texas and before hitting the road to head back up to Fort Worth, I suggested revisiting a park near her house - the first park we had explored together when we saw each other for the first time in the spring.  The weather that day contrasted sharply with the warm, languid air that hung around us, but the trees and grass still shimmered in vibrant shades of green.  We found a pair of trees in a clearing near the creek, and as I strung up our hammock I nervously thought of how I ought to present the ring to Andrea and how I could possibly communicate to her all the thoughts and convictions that filled my mind and had led me to this moment.

After all, for most of my life marriage was not something I had even considered.  I knew that it represented a solemn, serious commitment that was not to be taken lightly, but honestly it seemed the effort was not worth the reward.  I was happy by myself.  Since the intent of dating and courtship was to understand someone for the purpose of marriage, I did not engage in those activities either.  God had blessed me with a great career, a loving family and good friends and I simply did not feel an urge or desire to enter the turbulent world of romantic relationships, fearing the emotional landmines that littered the fields of miscommunication and the hurt feelings that would inevitably result.  It seemed like I had good, biblical reasons to stay single as well.  In 1st Corinthians 7 Paul encourages his readers to remain single and be free from the anxious desire to please their spouse.  However, Paul did not say this so that his readers could achieve some zen-like hermetic inner peace, but "for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord." (1 Cor. 7:35).  

So then, was my attention indeed undivided to the Lord?  Was I using the energy and flexibility of my single years to His glory, or taking my free time and spending them in pursuit of self-gratification?  By God’s grace I had avoided many of the pitfalls of youth and maintained a pleasant, inoffensive life, but was that God’s purpose and design for me?  Was there anything I could do differently to draw closer to God, understand Him, and become more like Christ?

As these thoughts weighed on me, so did the queries of friends, mentors, and relatives about my interest in dating, relationships, and marriage.  “Nope, not interested!” was my standard reply when asked if I had any new thoughts in that domain or if I would like to meet someone special.  Their persistence, however, led to an awareness of my apparent eligibility, that I could bring joy and happiness to someone through marriage. The testimony of many older Christian couples as well as recently married friends and the joy that their marriage facilitated also served as a great encouragement.  Concurrent with this new realization I discovered that responsibility and leadership were not necessarily dark, burdensome, thankless chores, but powerful motors for maturing as a believer in Christ. 

One instance of this was the process of buying and maintaining the first house the Moses family ever had, with all the responsibility and commitment that entailed.  It was daunting and stressful, but the satisfaction of providing a place for my siblings to settle and rest more than made up for it.  Around the same time I started teaching a very small Sunday School class at our church, a service that I initially approached with much apprehension but which also transformed my prayer life and spurred me to know the material and God’s word with greater breadth and depth.  Both my siblings and my Sunday School students were incredibly gracious, kind, and patient and after a year living in our house and teaching the class, I no longer saw responsibility and leadership - some of the things I feared I would lack as a husband in marriage - as enemies, but friends.

The final means that God in His sovereignty encouraged my pursuit of marriage was a series of sermons by Matt Chandler, called A Beautiful Design.  It was inspired in response to questions from the congregation about why the Village Church held that men and women should relate to each other in a complementary fashion, each filling distinct, biblically based roles in family and ministry and how to live that truth out in today’s culture.  I had never before heard with such clarity and passion how incredible it is that God made men and women distinctly and how marriage can serve as a beautiful picture of God’s love for His church.  At the end of the series, I wrote my Dad the following letter:

One principle that's become increasingly clear is how God uses marriage to sanctify people.  It's one thing to read the Bible, know God's principles, and reflect on his goodness, but marriage provides unique opportunities to apply the Word, exercise those principles, and witness his goodness.  As the author of an article I read said: "I can learn about Jesus when I read the Bible and feel close to Jesus when I pray. But I BECOME like Jesus (spiritually formed) when I give my life to a spouse, a child, a grandchild, and others whom God places in my home."  As Christians we are indeed called to become more like Christ, transformed day by day into his image. 

I've often wondered how am I supposed to live this, practically speaking, beyond simply being a well behaved, polite person and a good employee.  In short, what is my calling in this regard?  Ephesians 5 shows us how husbands can model Christ's love for the church via self-sacrificial love for their wives.  Absent a call to an area of ministry best served via singleness, being the husband in a marriage relationship is an opportunity that God has offered all Christian men.  It seems like it would be cowardly at best, disobedient at worst, for me as a man to ignore this domain of spiritual development.  

Modeling Christ's love as a husband is certainly a daunting task and incredible challenge.  However, you've told us many times that one's faith is best developed in the midst of challenges.  One of my most consistent prayers over the years has been for God to draw me closer to Him by providing opportunities to exercise my faith and trust in Him, and I believe that marriage and family is indeed an answer to that prayer.  I'm under no illusion that it will be an easy, serene, carefree experience.  After all, if it were, where would the opportunities be for self-sacrifice and spiritual growth?
And thus, with a bit of a martyr’s spirit, I began to earnestly pray and ask God to show me how to seek and whom I should pursue.

It did not take long to realize that I had been quite successful at limiting my contact with other Christian women my age.  As I asked friends and family if they knew of anyone and began to become more involved in ministry I also subscribed to a small, somewhat obscure website called, created to foster conversations about singleness, courtship, and marriage within a community of marriage-minded Christian singles.  The articles and discussion provided much food for thought and on Thanksgiving of 2014, I received a cheerful inquiry from “TrumpetGirl” asking about my life growing up overseas, as she had a similar background as a missionary kid and then missionary woman in Mexico. I learned that her name was Andrea and that she currently taught private music lessons, mentored a younger lady, and facilitated a sunday school class at her church. We constantly surprised ourselves and our friends by how much we had in common and how similar we were in our habits and thoughts.   

As our exchanges grew in length and depth, I was increasingly impressed by her intelligence, clarity, compassion, but most of all her passionate love of Christ and desire to become more like Him.  In February I asked her father’s permission to speak with her and we began making weekend visits to each other in the spring.  Throughout the period of our friendship we discussed each other’s past, our personalities, our motivations, and our goals in an attempt to determine if we should enter into courtship and seek God’s will for us in marriage.  After much prayer, encouragement from my godparents the Helms, affirmation from my family, and more prayer, Andrea and I began courting in May and talking seriously about what marriage might look like for us and how God could use such a union.  As rich as it was to be with Andrea, it was the joy of seeing her again returning from a three-week trip to Europe when I realized that Andrea was indeed the one God was calling me to marry.  My thoughts were not that of a brave martyr, but of a man filled with joy, peace, and purpose in anticipation of a life spent with one of the wisest, godliest, most compassionate women I had ever met.

And so it was on July 19 I summoned the courage to ask Andrea if she would indeed join me.  To my pleasure and delight, she said yes!  For Andrea, the most central passage of her life is Ephesians 5:1-2. “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”  What better way to imitate Christ than to become close to someone who models Him and causes you to desire to become more like Him?  That motivation is what has drawn us toward each other and toward the path of marriage, mutual service, and love.  

The Tribe of Moses is excited to welcome a new member into the family!  Andrea and I will be married on November the 7th of this year.  Sara will move in with a good friend from Inglewood and Jonathan will get an apartment closer to his work in North Dallas.  While the family dynamics will certainly change, I am confident that God will use our marriage to enrich our family, especially if he blesses Andrea and me with children!  

I suppose that’s a bit further down the road...

Monday, August 3, 2015

When God Doesn't Make Sense

One of my biggest blessings this year has been the testimony of Bro. Jun (see Feb. 20 entry).  After experiencing kidney cancer nearly 2 years ago, God exalted this humble servant and led him to revive the church he now pastors.  On June 4, we ordained him.  Two days later, it was confirmed that his cancer had returned and metastasized.  Now he is in deep pain, doubtful that he will make it to Christmas.

One doesn’t have to live long in the Christian life before running up against situations that just do not make sense.  A Christian soldier is killed, others unharmed.  A tornado destroys a church building, leaving surrounding structures intact.  An innocent child is kidnapped and tortured, his captor never caught.  An immoral man becomes wealthy, an honest Christian looses his job.  It’s a question often asked by the prophets of old, “Lord, why do the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer?” (Psalm 73:3; Jer. 12:1; Job 21:7; Hab. 1:4)

Before we claim to know the answer, let’s recall these words: “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter” (Prov. 25:2); “The secret things belong to the Lord” (Deut. 29:29); “Truly you are a God who hides Himself” (Isaiah 45:15); “As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the maker of all things” (Eccl. 11:5).  Sometimes God may reveal to us why a particular trial comes, other times He’s silent. 

Many people willingly make sacrifices, such as a mother who gives her life in order to save her child, or a soldier who sacrifices his life for his country.  But what is particularly troubling is when we can’t find a purpose for the suffering; when we can’t see God behind it.  Job (23:2-9) complained, “If only I knew where to find Him… I would state my case before Him…  But if I go to the east, He is not there; if I go to the west, I do not find Him.  When He is at work in the north, I do not see Him; when He turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of Him.”

So what are we to do when God seems absent during a tidal wave of adversity?  James Dobson, in His book, When God Doesn’t Make Sense, recommends that we camp our thoughts on three truths.  First, God is present and involved in our lives even when we don’t see Him.  Like the 2 disciples on the road to Emmaus who didn’t recognize Jesus, even though He was beside them, we choose not to trust our emotions, but to believe God’s Word.  “I will never leave you,” Jesus said. (Matt. 28).  God is “a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov.18).  “If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Thy hand will lead me, and Thy right hand will lay hold of me” (Psalm 139).

Second, God’s timing is perfect, even when He seems late.  Mary and Martha were certain God was too late in coming to the aid of their deceased brother, Lazarus.  But God’s purposes could only be accomplished by coming when He did.  When tragedy strikes, some of God’s purposes may be seen, but other purposes will never be understood this side of heaven’s gates.  And that’s when we remember a third truth: For reasons that are impossible to explain, we are incredibly precious to God.

“What is man that you make so much of him, that you give him so much attention, that you examine him every morning?” (Job 7).  David said in Psalm 8, “What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?”  “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me.  You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.  You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways…” (Psalm 139).

So why did kidney cancer have to strike Bro. Jun?  (I can understand me getting kidney cancer; no problem with that!)  In fact, I could make a long list of people who I think make better candidates for kidney cancer.  I can give God the list whenever He’s ready for it!  But in the shadows of heaven there works a wisdom and purpose far higher than I could ever see.  What He HAS given to me and you are precious truths that can see us through any dark storm of adversity:  God is always with us, He is never late, and for some unimaginable reason, we are precious to Him.