Friday, January 16, 2015

Catholic or Christian

The Pope is in the Philippines this week. To understand why, we have to go back nearly 500 years to 1521, when Ferdinand Magellan landed his feeble boat on the central Philippine island of Cebu. Magellan lost his life during an altercation with the natives, but the rest of his crew were able to complete the first voyage around the world. Soon, Spanish conquistadors–explorers and merchants, arrived claiming the islands for Spain in the name of Philip II, who later became king of Spain.

The Filipinos resented the Spanish for their oppressive ways, but readily adopted their religion – Roman Catholicism. Today, about 80% claim allegiance to the Catholic Church (about 12% are Christian, and the remainder are mostly Muslims), making the Philippines the 3rd largest Catholic country in the world (after Brazil and Mexico) and the only Catholic country in Asia.

The secular world doesn’t see any difference between Catholicism and Christianity. Secularists don’t believe in God anyway, so the differences really don’t matter to them. But for those of us who seek to follow Christ (which is what Christianity literally means), the contrasts are enormous.

The primary difference is our source of authority. Catholics claim the Roman Church, with the Pope as the supreme head, as their authority, along with all their dogmas, decrees, and traditions handed down for the past 1,500 years. Christians claim the Bible as our source of authority, believing it to be inspired by the Holy Spirit. Although we sometimes bicker about how we apply parts of the Scripture, we still agree that it’s our sole authority.

The Bible explains that, because of our sin, God has removed Himself from us, for He does not tolerate sin. He is holy. The punishment for even the smallest sin is death – eternal death in hell. That’s how holy God is. But God is equally loving, and sent His Son to pay our death penalty on the cross. For those who confess and repent of their sinfulness, and who believe Jesus paid the death penalty our sins deserve, God will pardon and ‘adopt’ by placing His Spirit within them, who begins the process of making us become more Christ-like, or Christian. Eternal life is given to us as our inheritance, not because of anything we did, but because of what God did for us.

The Roman Catholic also sees himself separated from God because of his sins. But he believes that there is enough goodness in him to merit God’s favor by following the sacraments of the Catholic Church and doing good deeds. For example, this week millions of Filipinos are literally climbing over one another to get a glimpse of the Pope while he is here, hoping that such devotion will move God to heal their grandmother, secure a job, pass an exam, experience financial gain, or some other benefit. The Catholic seeks to appease God himself, and earn his salvation, something the Bible says we cannot do.

The Bible also says that God is opposed to the proud – those who believe they are good enough to earn their way to heaven, but He gives grace to the humble – those of us who know that our hearts are dark as night and as dirty as the filthiest sewer. “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.” Plus, there is an eternal difference in the behavior of those who are governed by outside rituals and sacraments, verses those who are governed by God’s internal Spirit who is working to conform us to the image of His Son.

There are many other differences between Catholics and Christians, but none matter more than how we come to God: dependent on our vain prideful efforts, or dependent on God’s loving mercy. The difference matters a whole lot to God. It has been my joy these past 30 years to see Filipinos who leave the fear and uncertainty of their religion, for the joy and security of knowing Christ (Christian) and the internal heart-change that only His Spirit can render.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Pensive Ponderings

It’s sunset, 6 p.m., Dec. 31st. Already, outside, in every direction, fireworks are popping. Long ago, Filipinos adopted a Chinese superstition that lots of noise on New Years Eve will drive the evil spirits away for the coming year. Filipinos must sure hate those bad spirits because during the last hour of the year, the Philippines is the noisiest and smokiest place on earth. Some men will spend a months salary on fireworks that can fill several suitcases. And everyone sets them off during the final hour. It’s quite a spectacle.

In a few days, we will begin our second batch of trainees at our BOOST project (see Sept. 22 entry). Since our budgets are razor thin, I have to produce all the literature we use for our Agriculture and Bible training. That involves formatting, printing, collating, folding, and stapling several dozen booklets. Brainless work. So, for most of today, to occupy my mind while my hands stayed busy, I put on my headphones and listened to some of my old favorite songs. Lost in a pensive mood, some thoughts passed me by...

...Today, Jan would have turned 58. It would also have been our 29th wedding anniversary. Her absence is frequently felt, both in companionship and ministry. I have no doubt that no one on earth is as happy and fulfilled as Jan is right now, along with all the heavenly host of Christ-made saints. I envy where she is and who she is with. But I also thank God for the security I have in knowing one day I will be there, too, along with all my kids, each of whom has a relationship with our heavenly Father. Now that’s a gift you can’t buy at Wallmart!

...For the past 15 months, I have lived alone, for the first time in my life. Having an introverted personality has made it tolerable, but it's still a big adjustment. All 5 of my kids are currently at David’s house for the holidays. Last year, after Skyping with them for 2 hours on Christmas Day, I cried a bit. This year, after Skying with them for 2 hours on Christmas Day, I baked chocolate chip cookies for my neighbors. So, I’m adjusting.

...But my biggest adjustment has been in ministry. I think God has shown me, more than I wanted to see, the ugliness of this world, its culture, its media, and its direction away from God. Honestly, it has been discouraging. Do you recognize this stanza from an old song:

His head was bent in sorrow, green scales fell like rain,
Puff no longer went to play along the cherry lane.
Without his life-long friend, Puff could not be brave,
So Puff that mighty dragon sadly slipped into his cave.

Well, for me, optimism had been a life-long friend. Optimism that rapid church growth could happen here, that a nation-wide revival was possible, and that God’s Kingdom on earth could see better days. But based on what I have seen, I believe, from heaven's Hand, I need to find a better place to plant my hope. The darkness of this world is rapidly increasing in ugliness and scope, with no indication of slowing down. Like Puff, the temptation is to want to hide from it all.

But it’s my relationship with Christ that keeps me out of the cave, knowing that light is needed when darkness prevails. That’s why all of us Christians are still here on this hell-bent planet. So please pray with me, that I will find creative ways to be a faithful light-shiner, and that I will replace optimism with healthy realism – that “this corrupt world is fading away, and all its evil with it, but whoever keeps doing the will of God abides forever.” 1 John 2:17

Outside, nighttime has arrived. The fireworks are increasing. I’m starting to smell smoke. I wish I could broadcast to everyone that making noise is not the way to get rid of evil spirits. But that’s what 2015 is for – to share the truth with those who will hear.

Thanks for listening. Thanks more for praying. May God’s grace and joy fill your days in the year ahead.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Stilling the Skies

A late-season tropical storm passed through the central Philippines, unleashing torrents of rain. The windshield wipers clapped wildly as my truck splashed along the muddy road, carrying a load of passengers to the funeral service of Bro. O-ing. Ten years ago he had placed his trust in Jesus Christ, serving Him faithfully through his church until a few weeks ago when, at the age of 63, cancer took away his strength and then his life.

We had to leave the truck along the dirt road and walk the remaining distance to his house. Huddled under my umbrella, I measured each step along the slippery path as mud oozed over my scuffed shoes. Too poor to afford the services of a funeral home, the family had erected a make-shift shelter in the dirt yard with bamboo poles holding up an over-sized tarp. Because of the relentless rain, men were digging little canals around the large tent, channeling water away from the seating area inside. Other men were poking the underside of the tarp with poles, forcing water toward the edge and preventing it from pooling on top.

Bro. O-ing’s sister had asked me to give the message. She told me that most of the people there would not be Christians. Many of them were saying that O-ing’s early death was God’s punishment for becoming a Baptist. Had he not been baptized as a Christian, he would still be alive. The message I was planning to share would dispute such thinking. It would point to the beauty and glory of heaven, and the rich reward God has for those who live in obedience to the Lord, Jesus Christ.

But the problem on this dark, cloudy, Saturday morning was that no one could hear anything. The ocean of rain pounding on top of the tarp made it seem like we were on the inside of a rapidly beating drum. The noise was deafening. As the service began, I prayed, “Lord, this is your message, not mine. The people need to hear it. So, would you please stop the rain.”

There was no let up in the downpour as the opening song began. I could see mouths opening but I couldn’t hear anything coming out. There was no break in the dark clouds above. But during the second stanza, the rain lessened. By the end of the last stanza, it stopped! The ditch diggers laid down their shovels and sat down next to the pole punchers as I stood to speak.

Tropical storms do not easily withhold their bounty. But for 40 minutes, the turbulent clouds closed their doors and the skies were silent. I sensed the Lord’s presence and I spoke with joyful boldness. Later, the sister told me that the message opened the eyes of many to understand the sure hope of eternal life that belongs to those who walk with the Lord, as Bro. O-ing had. After I finished and sat down, the closing song began, and the pounding rain returned.

Two thousand years ago, the skies opened up, revealing a bright star that pointed the way to a tiny manger where the King of kings had just been born. Ever since then, His message of salvation has echoed across the continents. And when any of us are willing to share it, God is willing to quiet the clouds and still the storm so that all may hear.

Friday, November 28, 2014

You Seldom Experience This in the States

Hurricane winds were blowing outside. I had just gone to bed when suddenly a loud pop, like a big firecracker, erupted from my bathroom, accompanied by a bright flash. Three more followed in quick succession. Puzzled, I slowly opened the bathroom door, smelling smoke and seeing a wall socket turned black. The fiercely strong winds had driven rain water up under the window awning and down through the wall cavity, all the way to the electrical wall socket. Fortunately, the wall was too wet to catch fire.

In addition to hurricanes, earthquakes are frequent along this part of the “ring of fire”. About once every other month, we feel one. Most are small and harmless, rather amusing once we realize it’s not a big one. But some ARE big. Earlier this year, a 7+ one from a neighboring island brought me and my neighbors out of our houses. We had quite a fellowship outside as we waited to be sure our houses weren’t going to fall down.

Earthquakes, strong rains, bad planning, and broken equipment often cause electrical brownouts (or blackouts when the whole city goes dark). When the kids were growing up, they would use evening brownouts as an opportunity to play ‘hide and seek’. Now, brownouts find me reading by flashlight or cooking by candlelight (because of brownouts, I use a gas stove). Most last for a short time, but some have been known to last for days.

Houses here are not built very tight, so it’s easy for the many tropical lizards and spiders (not to mention the cockroaches and ants) to find their way inside. The 4-inch long lizards are quite harmless but messy. While they are good at eating insects, they are also good at falling from the ceiling or crawling across the bed, at night, with me in it. Most spiders are small, weaving their pesky webs in dark places. But a few species are quite large and are menacing. Chasing and killing them is a favorite pastime.

Then there’s the traffic. Imagine driving in a city of half a million people with no traffic signs or lights. Road markings mean nothing as long as the vehicles can squeeze past each other. Sometimes if there is a break in traffic coming from one direction, Filipinos will turn a 2-lane two way road into a 3-lane one way road. Roads often get clogged as each one “does what is right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). Quite exciting.

Today is Thanksgiving Day. Not a holiday here, but celebrated by many Filipino Christians on the last couple of Sundays of November. I’m thankful that God has given us a gospel message worthy of being carried to the ends of the earth. I’m thankful that God has given me a love for the Filipino people that overrides the weather, brownouts, lizards, spiders, and snakes (I forgot to talk about the snakes!). I hope that you found much to be thankful for this year. (You're probably thankful that you don't live over here!)

For your amusement, here are a couple of YouTube clips of David and Jonathan arriving at the airport in Roanoke, Virginia, for Thanksgiving, greeted in an unusual way by Hannah, Martha, and Bill - Jan’s dad. Sara couldn’t make it because of her job.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQUQ_CiyH0I

www.youtube.com/watch?v=tTNptOpbfqU

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)