Friday, May 4, 2018

Pastor Jimmy

Wow, I just realized today that it’s been a month since my last update.  My year-long Stateside Assignment is coming up the first of September and there isn’t usually much for me to report on while I’m in the States.  So, I was thinking of updating this blog the first of each month just to be consistent.  But I’ll see.

Last night a dear pastor of ours past away.  He was a month younger than me, but had pastored his church for nearly as long as I’ve been here in the Philippines.  About 5 years ago Jimmy’s doctor prescribed antibiotics for a kidney infection.  Since all their money was going to get their 2 sons through college, Jimmy didn’t buy the full dosage.  The infection returned and his kidneys were unable to recover.  He began kidney dialysis about 3 years ago. 

I visited him the night before and his breathing was rapid and shallow.  He sensed his time was short but he was ready.  His faithful wife and their 2 sons were by his side.  It’s sad when a godly man dies, but it’s also a time of rejoicing, knowing he is now enjoying all his faith-earned rewards in his new heaven-made body.

April was a busy time for me with people to visit, sermons to prepare, projects to manage, reports to file, meetings to attend, house to clean, grass to cut, clothes to wash, food to cook, car to clean, and teeth to brush.  (I guess I didn’t need to list that last one, but I was on a roll!)   May looks to be even busier with more of the same plus a youth retreat thrown in. 

This May marks the 14th year since I had my initial cancer surgery and the 10th year since my surgery for cancer recurrence.  Not that I think about it much; I hardly ever do.  I’m excited for my new eternal home in heaven and I’m ready for it whenever the Lord is.  But hospitals remind me that before I can move in to my majestic mansion, I’ll probably have to suffer some uncomfortable physical deterioration.  I tell people that I’m not at all afraid of death, but I’m deathly afraid of hospitals.  Well, if that’s the price I must pay to get on the train to glory then I’ll gladly pay it, whenever it’s time for the train to leave.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Hannah's Wedding and Seeing Christy

I said ‘goodbye’ to my granddaughter, Christy, a short time ago.  She’s 8 months old now and precious.  Grandpa had a long repertoire of silly sounds that kept her smiling.  Daddy David and Mommy Andrea are doing a super job of parenting.  I will see Christy again in September when she will be taking her first walks and saying her first words.  

For my other main event of the month, I had the best seat, or spot, in the place, standing slightly in front of and between Hannah on my right, in her wedding dress, and Daniel on my left.  The venue was a large Victorian style indoor gazebo-like circular building located in a Galveston shore park.  My message was about the purpose and nature of marriage.  Daniel and Hannah said their vows, exchanged their rings, and enjoyed the traditional kiss. 
 
Hannah looked lovely and Daniel looked handsome as the ceremony progressed followed by picture taking, food, games, along with great fellowship among family and friends.  I was especially blessed by the George Ranch volunteers who attended and, among others, said sweet things about Hannah. Hannah and Daniel chose to stay practical and affordable as they honeymooned in Galveston.  (If Jan were here to write this blog, it would be several pages long filled with vivid wedding details that us guys just either miss or can’t see!)

Prior to the wedding, I visited Hannah’s new work place at the Sauer-Beckmann Historical Farm.  While there I met her staff, watched new-born sheep, talked with visitors, and helped pull weeds while Hannah milked the cow.  The next day Daniel, Hannah, and I visited the famous Blue Bell Ice Cream factory while on our way to Galveston.  During the week I also spent quality time with Sara, Jonathan, Martha and Philip.  Three nights ago I had the pleasure of leading the church home-group that David and Andrea lead each week.

Now I’m riding 38,000 feet in the sky over the Pacific ready to resume my ministry on the other side of the globe.  Prayer breakfast, discipleship groups, leadership training, and sermon messages are all on the agenda for the next couple of weeks.  I’ll have to brush away spiderwebs from the back of my desk and sweep the dust off the floor.  There will be emails to respond to and a statistical report to fill out.  I will have friends to call and errands to make.

But it was nice to take a break to see the bluebonnets and smell the sagebrush, to connect with family and talk to friends, and most of all to see Hannah wedded and to hold my beautiful grandbaby.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Love Continues

Maybe it’s because Hannah is getting married in a couple of weeks.  Or maybe it’s because love is such a big issue nowadays among young people here.  But it seems the topic has followed me into March.

Last week I was invited to speak at a ‘Love Banquet’, sponsored by the 10th grade of Doane Christian Academy.  I accept almost every invitation to speak, seeing this as an opportunity to make Christ known.  But after speaking at this Love Banquet last week, I doubt they will ever invite me back!  Here’s why…

When I entered the venue, decorations galore greeted my eyes.  Paper hearts and cupid cut-outs hung from the ceiling.  Glittering streamers of red and pink covered the walls.  Love wasn’t just in the air; it was plastered on everything from the table napkins to the speaker’s podium.

The boys were decked out in formal suits and ties, while the ladies wore fancy dresses that never reached below the knees.  The evening began with a procession down the red carpet as every boy was locked arm in arm with a girl.  The MC announced the name of each couple as they entered the spotlighted arena. 

Contests were held on who was the ‘best dressed’, the ‘best face’, the ‘best personality’, and the ‘most popular’.  During another part of the evening, each boy presented his corresponding date with a red rose which he tied around her wrist.  Some of the boys chose to kiss her hand as well.

During the meal, different students took turns singing love songs, filling the arena with sounds of romance.  One 10th grader came to the microphone and, while looking intently to his date, sang “You’re just too good to be true.  Can’t take my eyes off of you.  You’d be like heaven to touch.  I want to hold you so much...”

Finally, it was my turn to speak.  I make a joke about all the girls being taller than the boys because of their high-heeled shoes.  I also expressed my gratefulness to them for allowing me to be their speaker.

Then I shared a story to them about a newlywed couple, Chad and Heidi Eves, who followed a biblical pattern of courtship.  Both had pledged never to date, waiting for God to bring the right person into their lives if He wanted them to marry.  When God ‘woke up’ Chad to Heidi, Chad worked through his father and Heidi’s father to further determine God’s will, all without Heidi knowing about it.

After lots of prayer and Bible studies with Chad, Heidi’s father finally gave permission and told Heidi about Chad’s desire to court her.  Heidi had long admired Chad’s godly character.  She was excited and quickly agreed.  A few weeks later Chad presented Heidi with an engagement ring.  He didn’t put it on her finger because he had pledged not to touch Heidi until their wedding day, knowing that 1 Cor. 7:1 literally says, “It is good for a man not to touch a woman.”   A short time later they were married, exchanging their first kiss on their wedding day.

After sharing Chad and Heidi’s story, I drew the students’ attention to their school logo, which pictured an open Bible with the Scripture reference Joshua 1:8.  I had memorized that verse long ago, so I reminded them of what it said, “Do not let this book of the law depart from you, but meditate on it day and night so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”

I asked the students and teachers, “If a stranger were to enter now, what evidence would he see that you are Christians?  In reference to God’s Word, what evidence does God see that you are ‘careful to do everything written in it”?  I challenged them to not be conformed to the ways of the world, but to seek to obey and glorify God in their personal lives and in all their future school activities.

Well, like I said, they may never invite me again to be their speaker. But that’s ok.  On Saturday I leave for Texas to see my granddaughter for the first time.  Then I will be privileged to officiate the wedding of Hannah and Daniel on the afternoon of the 25th in Galveston. 

Recently, when one of Hannah’s co-workers asked why Daniel had not yet moved into Hannah’s apartment, Hannah explained, “Because we are not married yet; we are both virgins.”  The co-worker was surprised and amazed.  Whether in the U.S. or the Philippines, it seems personal gratification matters more than mutual responsibility.  Despite the increasing darkness of our time, let’s keep our little lights shining so the world around us can know that there is a better way.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Love Month

It’s been a week since Valentine’s Day has come and gone.  But here in the Philippines, love is the topic for the entire month.  Hearts and cupids hang in the department stores until the red and pink commercial stock has been sold.  Love songs fill the radio waves and love stories shine on the silver screen.  In our churches, love is the theme for all four Sundays.

Valentine’s Day was a holiday that didn’t receive too much emphasis in our home-schooled family.  Why dabble with romantic emotions when you are not yet over puberty!  For me, growing up as a cross-eyed fat boy, Valentine’s Day was always a painful reminder of what I didn’t have.  During my first year of marriage, I completely forgot about the holiday.  Jan didn’t speak to me for a whole day!

But my biggest objection to the event is the wrong meaning that modern man has pasted onto an otherwise incredible beautiful word.  When I tell people that I serve here in a 3rd world country because God has given me a love for Filipinos, it would be incorrect to think that my commitment to serve is based on a continual emotional fondness for the people.  While I do have many wonderful Filipino friends here, my ministry to them is based on something far more solid than heat-felt feelings.

When Jesus taught His followers about love, He could have used the common thought expressed in the Greek word “storgee”, which is affection for someone because of your connectedness to them, such as a family member or marriage partner.  But Jesus never used its Aramaic equivalent.  He could have used ‘phile-o’, which is affection for someone (or something) because of qualities he/she possess.  Indeed, Jesus did use it a few times, but mostly in a negative way about those who ‘love’ to sit in the place of honor, or about the way the world loves its own (John 15:19).

To express genuine love, Jesus selected the thought expressed in a Greek word that was rarely used and existed only in verb form to describe those times when a person would sacrifice himself for the benefit of another, such as a soldier for his country or a mother for her child.  Jesus took that word, ‘agape-o’ and turned it into a noun, then told people where it came from (1 John 4:7).  The Bible says that only those who possess God’s Holy Spirit can faithfully show this kind of unconditional, sacrificial love that is based on an inward desire to help someone else regardless of any benefit they might bring to you (Gal. 5:22).

One word that the Bible never uses is ‘eros’, which is a passionate selfish desire for someone, usually sexual.  A close synonym would be ‘lust’.  No Biblical writer would have ever used ‘eros’ in the context of love because it means almost the exact opposite.  Unfortunately, when ancient scribes translated Greek writings into the English language, some unspiritual men used the same word ‘love’ for both ‘agape’ and ‘eros’, an enormous error that, to this day, causes much confusion about love’s true meaning.

So, I let Valentine’s Day pass, except to use it as an opportunity to talk about God’s love.  Indeed, God has given me His love to pass on to Filipino people, a task for which I feel overwhelmingly inadequate.  But with your prayer support and God’s grace, maybe enough of His love can find its way through me to make a meaningful impact on those God has called me to serve.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Baptist Global Response

Our International Mission Board (IMB) discovered many years ago that Southern Baptists give generously to help relieve the suffering of needy people.  Whether it’s a typhoon that destroys a village (a short-term acute need) or an impoverished city in a 3rd world country (a long-term chronic need) Southern Baptists want to help. 

Baptist Global Response (BGR) was created by Southern Baptists about a dozen years ago to connect people with needs to people who care.  As a partner organization of the IMB, BGR relies upon the IMB’s 4000+ missionaries throughout the world to assist in managing BGR funds and projects.  Thus, nearly all BGR donations go directly to the people who need it.

Another advantage of BGR is how we help.  Most benevolent organizations collect money, food, clothes, and supplies, then give it directly to the people in need.  While this is generous, give-aways are monstrously expensive and usually creates dependency from the recipients toward the givers.  People are often hindered from learning how to solve their own problems.

Through BGR, we seek to bring together the people of a community and work through a process that helps them identify and solve their own problems.  While outside resources may be tapped, the emphasis is uncovering the human and natural resources within a community that are often overlooked when outside resources are more easily available. 

When a community successfully solves their own problem (planting trees, improve their farms, develop livelihood projects, organize labor teams, begin values education, dig wells, etc.), they can follow the same process and solve future problems.  Rather than becoming dependent on outside help, communities are strengthened by learning to work together, becoming smarter, gaining self-reliance, and growing in self-confidence.

As a Christian organization, BGR doesn’t limit itself to physical needs.  We understand that Biblical moral values are needed to grow a strong community and take away the vices (drugs, gambling, immorality, etc.) that destroy lives.  Jesus warned us that there’s no benefit if we “gain the whole world but lose our own soul.” 

When a community sees us helping them with their physical needs, they become far more receptive to hearing about their spiritual needs.  Our main goal is to help people discover the ultimate ‘resources’ they have through a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.  We aim to see churches planted in every village that can serve as training centers to build stronger communities and mature leaders.

I’ll write more in a future blog about how I am partnering with BGR in our area.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Mary Jane

Mary Jane never finished elementary school.  Abandoned by her parents before she ever had memory of them, Mary Jane was handed off from one unwanting relative to another, never feeling that anyone cared about her.  Finally, at an early age, she married a guy who said he loved her.  But after 12 years and 3 children, he left her for another woman, never to be seen again.

Mary Jane struggled to provide for her 3 children.  The oldest, a girl named BeBe, quite schooling after grade 3 so she could work to help provide for her 2 younger siblings, both boys.  This family of 4 lived in a one room nepa hut that leaked miserably during rainy season.

Last September, through the encouragement of a friend, Mary Jane enrolled in our BOOST program.  Skeptical at first, she soon heard about a God who cared deeply for her, even to the point of sacrificing His son as payment for her sins.  Mary Jane was baptized and, for the first time in her life, felt and understood unconditional love.  She was excited to show this love to her children and help them begin a relationship with Jesus Christ.  She chose to reenroll in our BOOST program so she could learn more.

But she did not arrive on January 8 with our next group of enrollees.  Nor was she there the next day.  On the evening of Jan. 9, her body was found stripped, raped, and beaten, left dead in a ditch.  She was last seen Saturday evening washing dishes during a town fiesta, where the men commonly drink too much.  As she left to go to the restroom, one of the drunk men likely followed and abducted her.  We don’t know which one, probably never will.

I believe God knew before Mary Jane was born that this would happen to her.  Graciously, God arranged for her to hear the gospel message and receive Christ as Savior and Lord.  Mary Jane is doing fine now, enjoying the rich rewards for those who have placed their trust in Jesus.  

God could have prevented this from happening to Mary Jane.  Just as He could have prevented John the Baptist from being beheaded, or Peter from being killed, or countless martyrs from being persecuted, or Jesus from being crucified.  But we live in an evil world where Christians are not exempt from its grasp.  More often, we are its target.  

For now, pray for BeBe, age 16, who now must raise her 2 younger siblings.  BeBe is somewhat scared and uncertain about the future, but she has begun attending our BOOST program and we have an obligation to help her as much as we can.  James 1: 27 says, “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress…”  

What happened to Mary Jane reminds me how awful this world can be, and how excited I am for heaven.  May we all be diligent to shine the light of Jesus for those living in this dark world so that evil will not win in the end.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Grateful Families

500+.  That’s how many Christmas gifts www.blessings.ph gave out to needy families.  Most of the gifts were food items.  The smaller gifts could feed a family of 4 for about 3 days.  The larger gifts could feed a similar family for a week.  We visited 6 churches, each time presenting a gospel message before distributing the gifts to grateful families.

Each of the places had stories to tell.  In a rural area of Barotoc Viejo, a teenage girl shared with me how she had to drop out of high school because her family lacked money to pay for her daily transportation.  In Lambunao, a family’s entire resources had been used up paying hospital bills for a sick child.  In Roxas, many elementary school kids cannot afford the required school uniform.  

Some of the stories were hopeful.  In Culassi, a church member had rededicated his life to the Lord after a couple of years of backsliding.  In New Lucena, a mother told of God’s many blessings despite her family’s financial hardships.  In Santa Barbara, a newly formed Bible study group had seen their first baptisms.

For every hardship story I hear, I know there are a million others just like it or worse.  But in a country that is still less than 10% Christian, the hopeful stories are far fewer.  Still, in every place we visited, we heard testimonies from God’s people that our Lord is very much at work giving hope and assurance to those who look to Him.

As we begin a new year, major challenges remain in sharing the light of the gospel in a country that is increasingly wrapped in spiritual darkness.  The average Filipino today has much less interest in eternal matters than when I first came to the country 30 years ago.  The negative influences of western media have infected the nation with a worldly value system that opposes the teachings of Christianity.  Added to that, our financial resources for evangelism and discipleship are much less today than before.

But historically God seems to delight in showing Himself strong in the absence of abundant resources or in the presence of difficult challenges.  From Gideon’s army of 300 men to the faithful servant, Daniel, in an exiled land, from the work of 11 dedicated disciples of Jesus to the committed leaders of the Protestant Reformation in the 1500’s, God is never hindered by the limitations of men.

Pray with me for a God-sized outpouring of His Spirit in the Western Visayas Region of the Philippines, as well as the entire country.  As 2018 begins, my commitment remains to be God’s servant and worker in this little corner of the world.