Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Christmas Offering

The elections are done. Thank you to each one who voted. Autumn will soon be over. The trees are showing their fall color. I’ve read in the news that the U.S. is experiencing its first major blast of cold arctic air. Thanksgiving arrives in a couple of weeks, with Christmas not far behind. This is the time of year when we missionaries ask you to give a special gift to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. Let me share with you how this offering works for me…

Provides a salary. Southern Baptists are unique in the way we support our missionaries. In my nearly 30 years here in the Philippines, I have seen several missionaries from other groups come and go, often because their support was dropped or was insufficient. With our Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Offering, you provide me with a steady salary that frees me to focus on my work.

Provides a house and car. While the house that Lottie Moon rents for me here in the Philippines would not pass U.S. inspection standards, it’s plenty adequate for me. This house has been used for pastors’ meetings, fellowships, counseling, and even a retreat center. My vehicle has standard transmission and is 11 years old, but it has carried me and many others around this island sharing the good news of Jesus Christ in needy places.

Provides education funds. Lottie Moon gave Jan and I money to purchase books and curriculum needs for our children. It sent us to yearly conferences for training. Even now, it continues to provide a yearly amount to help cover college tuition for Martha and Jonathan. My children's education was made possible because of Lottie Moon.

Provides for health needs. Living overseas sometimes exposes us to various germs, viruses, and other tropical monsters. In my years here, I’ve enjoyed malaria, typhoid, amoebic dysentery, hepatitis A, dengue,and other exciting diseases. Lottie Moon covers me when I get sick. To keep expenses down, most missionaries have their health needs done locally in the country they serve in, like my cancer surgery in Manila in 2008.

Provides a ministry budget. With Lottie Moon, I can purchase Bibles for new Christians, reimburse travel expenses at conferences, purchase food for pastors’ meetings, and print lessons for discipleship training. I should mention that twenty years ago, my ministry budget was about $12,000 yearly. Because of a decrease in missions giving, my ministry budget for this year is less than $2,000. Still, we learn to stretch our budgets to make do with what we are given.

Let me say a big “Thank You” to everyone who has given in the past and will give again this year. Because of you, I am here. Because of you, we have churches here. Because of you, we have leaders here (like Bro. Ronald who witnesses to thousands of students each year – see my Sept. 4 blog entry). Because of you, God’s kingdom IS growing, here in the Philippines and around the world. May God bless you as you bless others through your giving.

Note: The 2014 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering goal is $175 million. This year, Hollywood spent $175 million producing an action, sci-fi movie about a military officer brought into an alien war against an extraterrestrial enemy who can reset the day and know the future. If our culture is willing to spend this much money for 2 hours of frivolous entertainment, can we not spend an equal amount to help fund our world-wide evangelism efforts for a year? I hope so.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

An Appeal to Vote

Please allow me to share a huge burden. From what I have learned this past year, I am convinced that the primary cause of a decline in global baptisms and church growth is an increasingly secular and godless world-wide culture, especially propagated by America’s entertainment industry. I think a Christian has to be a bit naive not to see the bigger spiritual battle that is being fought. In most countries of the world, real Christianity is slowing, if not declining. The exceptions are in remote places that do not yet have access to Hollywood’s culture or in countries like China that largely restrict such cultural influences.

When I came to the Philippines in 1986, America was still considered a Christian country; religious freedoms in the Philippines were more restrictive. Now, religious freedoms are more restrictive in America than here and Christianity there is quickly loosing the culture war. Some examples you may have heard about…

An Idaho minister, Rev. Donald Knapp, is facing up to 180 days in jail and a fine of $1000 per day for violating the state’s new anti-discrimination law because he declined to perform a same-sex wedding ceremony.

Kentucky’s Human Rights Commission has declared that Blaine Adamson, owner of a T-shirt company, broke the law by declining to print shirts promoting the Lexington Gay Pride Festival. He has been ordered to attend “diversity training” and threatened with business closure if he refuses LGBT customers in the future.

A school district in Lincoln, Nebraska, is encouraging teachers to be more inclusive by doing away with gender-specific terms like boy/girl and ladies/gentlemen. Instead, they say, segregate children by whether they prefer skateboards or bikes, or let them make up their own identify like ‘purple penguin’.

A womens’ studies class at the Univ. of Mexico claims to welcome open and dissenting opinions. One student complained about a recent class film showing that glorified lesbianism. She was accused of hate speech and removed from the class.

Because of the Obama’s administrations refusal to acknowledge and fight evil, ISIS terrorists have targeted and killed tens of thousands of Christians in northern Syria and Iraq. The recent air-strikes have done little to stop the terrorists' advance.

The Media Research Center demonstrates with facts that a huge liberal/Democratic bias exists in the news stories from CNN, ABC, NBC, and CBS, where up to 90% of their employees identify themselves as either moderates or liberals.

Houston mayor Annise Parker, a professed lesbian, led the city council to pass a transsexual ordinance that allowed, for example, a boy who thinks he’s a girl to use girl’s restrooms. She rejected a legal referendum of over 50,000 signatures who wanted to bring the issue to a vote, and is instead demanding the sermons of pastors, intimidating anyone who speaks against homosexuality.

No one died in the Watergate scandal that brought down a president. But many have died during Obama's presidency from scandals involving the Veterans Affairs, Fast & Furious, the Attorney General’s Office, Benghazi, and Immigration neglect. Yet, with the help of a liberal media, no one is held accountable.

Millions of dollars are given ever year to pro-abortion and pro-homosexual causes by wealthy donors like George Soros, Warren Buffet, and Apple CEO Tim Cook. But a $1,000 donation years ago for traditional marriage by Firefox CEO and co-founder, Brenden Eich, forced his ouster.

Please make your voice heard at the ballot box on Nov. 4. For those who may question me making such an appeal, please understand my burden as a missionary when I see Filipinos, especially the youth, adopting the values of people like Lady Gaga, Ellen DeGeneres, Justin Bieber, and Miley Cirus, and drifting further away from the teachings of Jesus Christ and the truths of Christianity. What is allowed on TV, what is seen in the theater, what is heard on the radio, soon becomes the values of a nation. The moral values we embrace and the political choices we make in America have a huge influence on cultures around the world.

“Righteousness exalts a nation” Prov. 14:34. God has called upon us to be “the light of the world.” May it yet be so.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Parenting

Today is Sara’s birthday, still young at 27. Next week, I will be the speaker at our annual church Association meeting where I will talk about family and protecting them from the harmful influences of our modern culture. In preparing a slide show, I’ve spent time this week going through our family pictures, reliving some of the memories that hold special places in our hearts.

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I love to brag on my kids. I’m grateful for the people God placed in my life and Jan’s life who taught us about raising a standard of excellence within the home. Of course, Jan and I failed at times to keep that standard high, but at least we felt we knew where to aim. As an empty-nester, reflecting back over the years, here are some things that I think we did right, and some I wish I had done better:

Above all, I wish I had been a better spiritual model. I have read books authored by godly people who remember their dad getting up early every morning and spending focused time with the Lord. For me, with 5 active kids, a busy wife, 2 helpers, 2 dogs, and frequent visitors, my focused time usually came when I was away from the house. I lacked discipline to make quality time with the Lord within the home.

I wish I had praised my kids more. James Dobson recommends that parents give 10 times more praise than criticism, a ratio I didn’t even come close to. Our children do positive things every day if we are alert to them. Although I strove to be lavish in my praise, I’m sure my kids remember the criticisms more.

I wish I had better control over my feelings, especially when angry. Before I married, I didn’t think I had a temper. But marriage and homeschooling 5 kids can quickly bring out the worst in any of us. There were times, especially with Jonathan, when I resorted to anger rather than to pray and ask for wisdom on how to deal with a situation. There were many a day when my anger failed to go down with the sun.

On the other hand, I think we got some things right. We chose never to have a TV in our home, even though everyone else had one. All my kids are so thankful that they did not grow up with TV. Today, none of them have one or want one. We also did not allow rock music to be played in our home. (Confession: My kids occasionally caught me listening to my 60’s music.)

We had lots of resources in the home for learning. Jan was excellent at this. With homeschooling, we were in control of what our kids learned. We were able to center all learning around God’s Word, focusing on developing godly character qualities rather than only academics. We created our own family culture that was wholesome and fun.

Jan and I were careful to help our kids select their friends. Knowing how friends can influence us toward good or bad, we wanted our kids to have friends who would motivate them toward maturity. That meant sometimes David and Jonathan did not have any friends, which was OK. Better to have no friends than the wrong friends. The girls were able to have a few good Filipina friends.

For Jan and I, parenting took a lot of work and sacrifice. But I regret none of it. “I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.” (3 John 4)

Monday, September 22, 2014

BOOST

In 1984 one of our missionaries, Harold Watson, won the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award, often considered the Asian equivalent of the Nobel Peace Prize. An agriculturalist, Harold developed a method for poor farmers to cultivate hillside land without causing erosion. He called it SALT – Sloping Agricultural Land Technique. Hedgerows of nitrogen rich trees anchor the soil so various crops can be planted between the rows. The technique has now been adopted and taught by government agencies in various countries.

Harold started a program for teaching farmers SALT and other techniques, which he called BOOST – Baptists Out Of School Training. During the 3-month training, along with hands-on agricultural instruction, the trainees also receive in-depth Bible training. The goal is that each trainee will be equipped to return to their home place and, while assisting other farmers in improving their land, they will evangelize their community and start a church. Most of the trainees are not Christians when they start the training. But by the end, nearly all dedicate their lives to Christ. Hundreds of churches in the Philippines can trace their start to the influence of these BOOST graduates.

Last year, while assisting our churches with disaster relief in the wake of Super Typhoon Haiyan, I was brought to the farm of Bro. Roseller, who had seen the impact of BOOST projects elsewhere in the country. Roseller had a vision of using his farm for a BOOST project. By the the time I met up with him, he already had brought in an agriculturalist, built a goat barn, a fish pond, planted a FAITH (Food Always In The Home) garden, and was constructing a dormitory for trainees. I added the resources of Baptist Global Relief, and our first BOOST project in this part of the country was initiated.

Two weeks ago, we had an orientation for our first batch of trainees – 7 young men who will spend many hours each day for the next 3 months in both agricultural and Bible training. By the end of the first week, all 7 were baptized! Please join us in praying for these men, that the Holy Spirit will grow them to be strong in faith and bold in their vision to see God’s kingdom planted in their communities. By January, we will double the number of trainees, hoping to train 3 groups each year. The project is led by an agriculturalist (Bro. Jilbert), a Bible trainer (Bro. Bert), and a community developer (Bro. Sonny).

The farm is located near the coastal point where the super typhoon made landfall on our island. Farmers all across that part of the island experienced unprecedented devastation. We know that farmers will be open to anything that will help restore the productivity of their land. Pray with us that when these trainees return home in December, farmers and community leaders will also be open to the message of the gospel.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Teach These Truths

Last Saturday I visited the village where we had done typhoon disaster relief. A core group of about a dozen newly baptized believers gather each week as Bro. Ronald and team help them grow in their relationship with God. Bro. Ronald, as I may have mentioned before, is the manager of a computer school in nearby Roxas City (the birthplace of Hannah and Martha) and is also the current president of the city’s Kiwanis Club. He is married and has 2 children.

I met Ronald in 1988, not long after Jan and I moved to Roxas City following language study. I helped disciple Ronald and soon he became the pastor of our first church. In 1993, a Christian lady bought a franchise for a computer school and asked Ronald to be the manager. Knowing she had many applications for the position, Ronald asked her, “Why me? I don’t know anything about computers!” But the owner assured Ronald they could train him in what he needed to know. She wanted Ronald because of his character; he was dependable, trustworthy, and worked well with people.

At first, Ronald said ‘no’ because God had called him to ministry work. But I encouraged Ronald to reconsider, knowing a school manager could have a lot of influence. So he accepted. He’s been the manager ever since, faithfully sharing Christ in his classes and through school Bible studies and retreats. One of his job responsibilities is to promote the computer school to graduating seniors from area high schools. Over the years, Ronald has developed a presentation in which he promotes the gospel of Jesus Christ more than the school. (I wish we could do things like this in the U.S.)

For several years, Ronald had been prohibited in coming to a major high school in a nearby town whose principal was a staunch Roman Catholic. Then, last month, Ronald was surprised to receive an invitation to come to the school. Their principal had been reassigned. So, last Friday, Ronald spent two and a half hours explaining the gospel through Scripture verses, testimony, music, and film clips. At the end of the presentation, nearly all 300 students indicated their faith and trust in the Lord, Jesus Christ.

After Ronald finished, the school’s guidance counselor stood before the students and said, “I am the one who asked Sir Ronald to come today. I’m sure he doesn’t remember me, but many years ago, he came to my high school in another town where I was a student and he shared the same gospel message. I asked Jesus to be my Savior and Lord that day, and now I want him to continue coming to our school here so each of you can have the same opportunity to know God as I have come to know Him.”

“You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others.” 2 Timothy 2:2

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Family Update

I just finished talking with Hannah for a couple of hours via Skype and will talk later to Martha. After driving for 2 days from Texas, both made it safely back to Virginia where Martha begins her last year in college and Hannah her last year in graduate school. I will make a trip back to the States next May for their graduations. Jonathan could graduate next May with his Associate degree in Computer Networking, but we’re thinking about him staying on another semester or 2 to also earn a degree in Computer Security. We’ll see. But all of them had a great time together at David’s house for the past few weeks.


As for their future plans after graduation, Hannah is considering a 2 year service with the Peace Corps, maybe in a needy country in Africa or South America. She may also start sending out her resume after Christmas to museums and government agencies. Please pray that the Lord will guide her through it all. The Lord has placed missions in Martha’s heart, but she will need to work at least a couple of years in a hospital setting in the U.S. to develop her nursing skills. She will be seeking the Lord’s direction on where to do that.

But before either of them set off on their careers, they and Sara are hoping to take a post graduation vacation to Europe next May for a couple of weeks. Sara has always wanted to visit Scotland and Ireland, Hannah wants to visit the World’s Fair next year in Milan, Italy, and Martha would just enjoy spending more time with her sisters. When Jan graduated from college she traveled to Europe with her mom, so the girls want to follow in their mom’s footsteps, literally.

Sara has chalked up 6 years with Neiman Marcus in their graphics department, which gives her the privilege of more vacation time each year. David continues to do well with his job as lead programmer at Texas Wesleyan University, as well as teaching a Sunday School class. Jonathan is earning some of his own money with a part-time job at a Chic-Fil-a. All of them will get back together at Christmas time, but Daddy will have to wait until next May to be with them.

Folks here often ask if any of them are close to getting married. David turns 29 this week and has his own house. The girls are all of the marrying age. Jonathan will be leaving his teen years before too long. We have discussions about it now and then, but as yet, each is waiting for God’s best. None require marriage in order to be fulfilled. Each has learned to maximize their single years to serve the Lord, learn skills, and develop a trust in the Lord for their future. I expect at some point the wedding bells will ring. I just don’t know for who. Nor am I in a hurry to know. In God's time.

Thank you for those of you who join me in praying for my kids. Nothing in this world is more precious to me than each one of them.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Martha's Update

The rainy season is in full force here in the Philippines. I’ve given up trying to keep my car washed.

Earlier this month, we were blessed by 11 folks from Ohio (led by one of my former company colleagues) who ministered here in Iloilo as well as in Negros, the next island to the south. They walked house to house, sharing Christ, helped conduct a training seminar, and renovated an old church building.

Last week, I said goodbye to my faithful ministry partners, the Lockharts, who had served as volunteers here for the past 5 years. The number of Ilonggo people in God’s kingdom has increased because of their fruitful labor. They are returning to their home in Texas for a new phase of ministry there.

Then Martha left, leaving my nest empty once again. It was great having her here. She was going to write this blog, but she stayed very busy visiting with people. Then she ate some food at a youth fellowship that left her sick for a couple of days. So I’ll post part of the ministry update she sent out to those who helped support her...

(From Martha) "I am thankful for every relationship God allowed me to make for the six weeks that I was able to spend there. I hope that the Lord uses the conversations that were had and that He is glorified in that place. I am thankful for those of you who have been praying for me and who have supported me financially to be able to go. I am thankful for my sister Sara for sending out updates and all of her help. :)

The Kingdom work there is hard, as it is in many places. There is a lot of sowing and little reaping. But the Lord is the Lord of the harvest. I’ve heard from people all over the globe that it seems harder and harder to see “results” from ministry, as we measure them. In the book of Ezekiel, God commanded the prophet to go and proclaim the words of God to the “sons of Israel”, even though as God said, they are a “stubborn and obstinate house” who will not listen. God didn’t promise Ezekiel that if he spoke the words of God, the people would receive his words.

Chapter 33 of Ezekiel tells the story of the watchman who upon looking out and seeing the destruction to come upon the city goes and warns the people of the city. If the people do not ready themselves against the danger, is not their blood on their own hands? But if the watchman sees the danger approaching and does not warn the people, is not their blood on the watchman’s hands? God called Ezekiel to be a prophet, a watchmen for the people to hear from God, but does not Jesus call each of us to a similar role?

“As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world” (John 17: 18)

God has not commanded each of us to live exactly like Ezekiel, but He has commanded obedience and to love those around us. He has given us the example of His Son, Christ Jesus, who “did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.” (Philippians 2:6-7) “The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:9)

Jesus warns us that in the last days, “Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold”. (Matthews 24:12). Does that mean we stop sharing or serving in whatever field the Lord places each of us? We have the confidence that our work is not in vain; even Ezekiel was demonstrating God’s love and faithfulness by giving warnings to the people of Israel.

Pray that each of us would be sensitive to the Lord’s leading and that we would not be hardened by the changes in the world. “Encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:13) Pray that each of us would surrender completely to the Lord and that He would fill us with His Spirit and use us for His glory. Pray that we would be aware of the schemes of Satan to draw us away from God.

“And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.” (Revelation 19:11-16)