Saturday, April 11, 2015

Simply The Story

This week, I want to show you a dilemma that missionaries face… God has communicated to us primarily through the Scriptures. Most missionaries attend Bible school or seminary where they spend 3 years studying to understand the Bible. After learning the Biblical languages, reading bucket-loads of books, writing tons of papers, they are released into the world to share the good news of Jesus Christ. They learn the local language, translate the Bible, write lessons and even books to help communicate the gospel to people who haven’t heard.

The dilemma is that over 80% of the world’s population do not learn by reading. According to statistics, 25% of the world’s population are totally illiterate (can read nothing), 35% are functionally illiterate (can read a little, but learn by hearing/watching), 19% are oral-preference learners (can read some, but still prefer to learn by hearing/watching), and 3% are blind/visually impaired. In third world countries, like the Philippines, these percentages are significantly higher.

Another dilemma… Studies show that we only retain about 20% of what we hear. Think about your pastor’s sermon last week, or the week before. See what I mean! Retention doubles to 40% when we add visual images to what we hear. But here is something interesting – retention doubles again to 80% if we discover the fact or information ourselves, whether through hearing, watching, or reading. This is why teachers remember so much more of the lessons than students.

One way we have overcome these dilemmas is through a learning process we call Simply The Story (STS). A group gathers to hear a Bible story. The leader, having already learned the story, tells the story either from memory or, if he can, by reading it from the Bible. He then closes his Bible and retells the story in his own words, leaving nothing out nor adding anything. The group then pair off and practice telling the story until everyone has learned it.

The leader will then guide the group using a set of questions: Who is in the story and what are they doing? What did they decide to do, what other things could they have done instead, and what were the consequences? What possible feelings might they have experienced (or you might have experienced if you were in the story)? What surprises you about the story? What is God teaching us through the story? What is God saying to you through the story?

Because the story is now hidden in their mind, the learner is free to focus on the message of the story rather than the text. By asking questions instead of preaching, the learner discovers for himself the truths of God’s Word. And the story can continue to play in the learner’s heart long after the Bible study is over. The leader is free from the burden of having to teach a lesson. Instead, participants listen to each other to hear what the Holy Spirit is saying, knowing that God has more to say than any one person can hear.

Of course, this process is nothing new. Jesus frequently used stories and questions. Amazingly, STS works equally well with professionals. Here’s a link if you are curious to learn more: www.simiplythestory.org. In the past, we have relied upon literate means to reach the illiterate. Sometimes it’s us seminary-educated ones who have a hard time putting away the books, papers, pens, and lessons. Sometimes it’s us who are slow to learn.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Genocide

The Bible says in 1 Cor. 12, “…there should be no division in the body [of Christ]; instead, all the parts mutually depend on and care for one another. If one part is suffering, then all the members suffer alongside it.” As I spin my globe toward the Middle East, I find that a great suffering is happening in the body of Christ…

Alyssa, a 28-year old Iraqi woman: "After my family was killed I was kidnapped by ISIS and brought to a terrorist camp with more than 100 new widows my age. Every night, a man would beat and rape me, and during the day, we were forced to cook for the ISIS fighters. Many nights, the men would take turns with us and do very bad things."

Kalil: “ISIS fighters were coming for all of our villages. We were forced to walk and hide in the mountains of Sinjar. They found us. I gave them the few things we had and begged them to release us. They beat us and tied our hands together so we could do nothing as they took our children away. Days later, I found our four children's bodies on the rocks of a nearby mountain. My nine-year-old daughter was raped and then badly killed."

Aly: I was forced to watch ISIS jihadists kill my family. They took me away with other women. Over and over, they tortured and raped us. I begged them to stop, but they laughed, saying that we were their slaves. Then, one day, the leader came and told me that he was going to sell me. I screamed and begged him to kill me instead. When I was sold, I cried for 30 minutes. Then my new owner said, with a gentle voice, “Dear Sister, we are good people. God sent us to buy you away from these bad people.” He brought me water, food and took me to a safe refugee camp. I learned later that he sold his wife's jewelry to purchase my freedom.”

Alyssa, Kalil, and Aly share at least two things in common. They are Christians, and they survived the genocide (the mass killing of a people group) that is currently taking place in northern Iraq and Syria. Unfortunately, tens of thousands (some estimate nearly 200,000) of Christians, along with other minority groups, have been killed by ISIS. Over 1 million remain homeless, many freezing to death while hiding in the mountains. No country will take them; no country wants them.

It is now reported that 2014 was the worst year in modern history for global persecution of Christians, mostly from the Middle East. ISIS terrorists have burned hundreds of villages, looted cities, and destroyed priceless historical, biblical, and archeological sites. Men and boys are tortured, then burned alive in cages, wives and daughters are brutally raped, then killed, children are forced to watch, then beheaded.

Although ISIS is guilty of killing fellow Muslims, along with other minorities, they have stated that their #1 enemy are Christians. This is a religious war against Christians and Jews and any other minority that refuses to bow to radical Islam. They find justification for their brutality in the Koran – the Muslim bible. In recent weeks, ISIS has carried their extinction strategy to Yemen, Tunisia, Nigeria, and Chad. Their numbers are increasing, as is their brutality.

Hebrews 13:3 instructs us, “Remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering." Pray for our fellow Christians in the Middle East, especially Syria and Iraq, many who have lost their family and, as I write, are sleeping on the ground without any shelter because all their belongings have been taken from them. They cry out to God for help.

Pray for the Christian relief agencies that are making an effort to save as many as they can by setting up refugee camps and temporary shelter. Liberty Relief International... www.libertyrelief.cc/201269/offer.asp ...and Baptist Global Response... www.gobgr.org/projects/project_detail/middle-east-crisis ...are 2 agencies that I know about and trust.

Pray for our government leaders, that they will understand that evil DOES exist and must be dealt with.

Monday, March 9, 2015

A 3rd Generation House Church

The road climbed steadily higher, aiming for a gap between two mountains. Me and my companions were on our way to visit a house church in the interior of our island. Years ago, I shared the gospel to Danny, who started his own house church. He shared the gospel with a neighbor, Lena, who started her own house church. Lena had traveled to her home here in the mountains and shared the gospel with her relatives, and they started a house church. Eight baptized believers made up the core of this 3rd generation house church, and this was my first visit.

The scenery was beautiful. Passing through corn fields, the winding road climbed a ridge that eventually took us to a point where we could see down into valleys on both sides. Tree covered mountains loomed beyond that. Small native nepa houses dotted the hillsides. Occasionally, I had to dodge large rattan mats laid out on the road to dry freshly harvested rice.

I recalled the first time I traveled this road, 29 years ago, when Jan and I were still language students. Although our assignment was Roxas City, we were doing language study in Iloilo City, about 75 miles south of Roxas. Eager to visit our place of assignment, Jan and I had set out to traverse the interior of our island, from south to north. Not knowing the way, we did the American thing and bought a map, which showed the road we were currently on.

But 29 years ago, this road was a rocky path suitable for horses and 4 wheel drive vehicles. Pregnant with Sara, Jan didn’t know if she could handle the jarring bumps. When we finally arrived in Roxas, 6 hours later, our friends were shocked that we had come that way. “Why didn’t you take the new highway?”, they asked. Turns out our map was quite outdated. “Don’t you know that there are NPA up in those mountains?” (New People’s Army were communist-backed rebel fighters prominent back then.)

But now the road was paved, at least to where we had to turn off and continue our climb along a narrow dirt road that, at some points, hugged the edge of cliffs. No longer were the mountains distant; we were in them, climbing higher. By the time we arrived at the native hillside house, the temperature was cooler, the wind stronger, and clouds were sitting on nearby peaks.

About a dozen of their neighbors gathered on the bamboo floor as we sang Ilonggo hymns of praise, followed by words of encouragement and hope from God’s Word. Sun wrinkled faces and stiff calloused hands told of a rugged lifestyle. Yet their generosity knew no limits as they prepared a feast of their finest foods, from fruits of banana and papaya, to vegetables of corn and rice, and meats of… well, I’ve learned not to ask!

Someday when I retire from the mission field, I will recline in the comfort of my American living room surrounded by modern conveniences. I will eat recognizable food and maybe look out upon my manicured lawn. But I know deep inside there will be a longing to climb the road once again to enjoy the smiles and fellowship of these mountain people. My main consolation will be knowing that I will see them in heaven someday, and grateful that I shared the gospel to Danny.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Bro. Jun

Jun, a well-known business owner, had said things he shouldn’t have about the pastor, then led his family and a couple of other families out of the church. A few months later, he was diagnosed with stage-3 kidney cancer, and had his left kidney removed (something I could relate to). While the surgeon was removing the cancerous kidney, God was removing Jun’s bitter spirit.

Weeks later, Jun stood in front of the church, nervous, a bit shaken, but resolved to do what God had told him to do. “God has convicted me that I was wrong in saying the things I said and implying the things I implied. Will you forgive me?” Everybody knew what he was referring to, and everybody forgave him. All the morning worshipers, including Pastor Jimmy, gathered around him in a sign of support and love. For the next several months Jun, his wife, and children reestablished themselves as active and faithful members of the church.

Then it was discovered that Pastor Jimmy was experiencing kidney failure. A kidney infection had led to a round of antibiotics, but Pastor Jimmy never completed the prescribed dosage. Funds were limited. Jimmy and his wife were trying hard to get their youngest son through college, so that’s where the medicine money went to. The infection returned, spread, and permanently damaged both kidneys.

Pastor Jimmy is now on limited, government funded kidney dialysis, deteriorating, loosing weight, and knowing that his time on earth is short. Too weak to continue his pastorate responsibilities, Jimmy announced last December that he was stepping down as pastor. When asked who would replace him, Jimmy gave a hearty endorsement for Bro. Jun.

Jun was humbled. He had no seminary or Bible school training. He only had a faithful and willing heart. That was enough. Just before Christmas, the church unanimously elected him as their new pastor. For the past three months, Jun has rallied the church with his honest preaching, servant’s spirit, and humble leadership. He initiated a discipleship training and had nearly 50 people sign on. Worship attendance is up; prayer meeting participation is increasing, the church is excited and growing.

This morning, Bro. Jun, his wife, and seven others were in my home for some Bible training. During our sharing time, he said things like, “God knows I am not qualified to do what I am doing. But God is my strength.” “God is giving me the wisdom I need, because He knows I don’t have it.” “I am completely dependent on Him; without Him I know I could do nothing.”

And God said, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

A Passion for Christ

A cold front passed through the Philippines a few days ago. I woke up one morning and my thermometer read a bone-chilling 67 degrees! Well, that’s about as cold as it gets here in the tropics. Coats, jackets, and seldom-worn sweaters come out. Some parents debate whether it’s safe to send their child to school.

A couple of weeks ago, I spent a few days in Thailand meeting with over a hundred of my ministry colleagues. What I heard there was both encouraging and disturbing. I was encouraged by a renewed focus on personal spiritual growth and maturity among our mission workers and leaders. But discouraged by reports that, around Asia, the rate of church growth is decreasing.

God is certainly still at work throughout the world, but resistance to the gospel is accelerating at an alarming pace. As I have expressed in previous updates, the harmful influences of our secular western culture are penetrating like a plague into the interiors of Asian countries, hardening hearts and minds to spiritual truths.

This has led me to revise my mission goal. Before, my goal for the past 15 years was to help initiate a CPM (Church Planting Movement) in the Philippines. I certainly still desire this, but I realize that CPMs are not happening because so few have a passion for Christ, a passion that is born out of a brokenness before the Lord and a hunger for holiness.

Therefore, my new goal is to help lead Filipinos to become passionate in their love for Christ. I suspect that if enough Filipinos become champions of faith, church growth will take care of itself. This new goal involves leading Filipinos to faith in Christ, to know the love of Christ (as Paul prays for over and over in Ephesians, Colossians, and elsewhere), and to be alert to our secular pop culture that offers substitute passions and battles against a Christian worldview.

This new goal also requires me to be passionate in my love for Christ, which involves brokenness and holiness. So please pray for me, PLEASE, that I will “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, pleasing Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work, increasing in the knowledge of God, strengthened by His power…” Salamat (thank you!).

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.