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 leather 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 rain 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)

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