Saturday, July 18, 2015

Enclaves of Faith



There is much to bemoan in the world.  But because God is always at work, enclaves of faith can always be found.  My work here, coupled with your prayers and support, has helped uncover these pockets of faith and see them grow.

Every Tuesday evening, a group of Christians meet who are learning to be ‘light shiners’ where ever God places them.  For nearly 4 years now, this group has shared the gospel with many and seen some come to faith.  While having fun together every Tuesday, they also take the Great Commission seriously, encouraging one another through God’s Word and their personal testimonies.

On Sunday evenings, I meet with a dedicated group of believers who have seen much struggle and hardships in their collective lives.  Yet they have grown strong through suffering, experiencing God’s presence through trials and tribulations.  They have learned to smile in the face of adversity, and sing God’s praises knowing that He is working all things together for good.

On Thursday, I visited with our BOOST trainees, men from ages 18 to 58 who are spending several hours each day increasing in their knowledge of God’s Word and growing wise in following God’s ways.  They have lived together for the past 2 months, cultivating, growing, and harvesting their FAITH (Food Always In The Home) gardens in the mornings, and growing more toward spiritual maturity in the afternoons as they study and apply the Scriptures, and share their faith publicly every weekend.

Last night, 8 young people from one of our churches enjoyed a time of fellowship and sharing in my home.  Caught in a culture that daily tempts them to peel away their trust in God, these young people have learned to say ‘no’ to the world and ‘yes’ to what truly matters.  They, too, have learned to have wholesome fun together, while making wise choices that protects them from the corruption and moral decay that surrounds them.

Last Saturday, I joined with Bro. Ronald and 4 of his school staff as they carried God’s Word to a village that had been devastated by Typhoon Hiayan.  Southern Baptist teams from the U.S. helped the people in this village rebuild their homes, and now Bro. Ronald and his team continue to help them rebuild their lives.  Each week, adults along with about 50 children are learning about a God who cares.

Also, last week, I led a training for 15 faithful believers on the west end of our island who help lead a vibrant, growing church in the capital city of their province.  In their eyes I could see an eagerness to know God more, and a joy in sharing His truths to those He brings into their lives.

Enclaves of faith in a troubled nation; beacons of light in a darkening world.  Hopeful, refreshing, God at work.

Friday, July 3, 2015

America’s Road to Secularization


Last week’s Supreme Court’s decision to rewrite the definition of marriage shocked many Filipinos who still think of America as a Christian nation. They were asking me, “Why?  How did that happen?” Because of America’s status in the world, decisions made by our leaders have far reaching consequences worldwide, and this recent pronouncement maybe even more so, especially for us who work to share God’s Word to a lost world.  But our nation’s road to secularization (the absence of God) has been a long one.

When forming the laws of our nation, America’s founding fathers relied heavily upon the Bible.  One researcher found that, when explaining our laws and form of government, 94% of our founding fathers’ quotes were either directly from the Bible, or from those such as Blackstone, Locke, and Montesquieu, who quoted the Bible as their primary source of authority. 

Early in our nation’s history, Supreme Court justices used these sources as the basis for their decisions.  As late as 1892, a ruling of the court said, “Our laws and our institutions must necessarily be based upon and embody the teachings of the Redeemer of Mankind.  It is impossible for us to do otherwise; and in this sense and to the extent our civilization and our institutions are emphatically Christian.” The early curriculum of America’s law schools, such as Harvard, Princeton, and Yale, were based upon Biblical principles.

But the seeds of change began to germinate in the late 1800’s as new secular philosophies and worldviews, pioneered by men such as the agnostic Charles Darwin, the socialist Karl Marx, and the philosopher Freidrich Nietzsche, denied the existence of God.  Although rejected by the populace, their beliefs attracted the attention of intellectual elites.

Once such elite, Charles Eliot, a Unitarian, served as Harvard University’s president from 1869 to 1909.  He, more than any other, cemented Harvard’s transition from a Christian to a secular institution, severing all connections with its religious past.  Eliot adopted the practice of ‘tenure’ to shield new left-leaning professors from academic accountability.  Harvard’s curriculums, especially its law school, were changed to reflect strong humanistic / secular beliefs.  Moral absolutes gave way to situational ethics.  During the early 1900's, other universities adopted Harvard's curriculums.

By the 1940’s, our Congress and Supreme Court were well represented by graduates of these humanistic / secular education systems.  The moral principles used by our country’s founding fathers were no longer respected.  An example of this was a 1952 Supreme Court decision that declared movies were a form of free speech and therefore exempt from censorship.  This overturned a previous 1915 court case that said movies were a form of business that should be censored according to accepted moral standards.

During the 50’s and 60’s, many of Hollywood’s studios became internationally owned.  Money rather than morals took priority.  The conservative producers from the golden age of Hollywood were replaced with left-leaning writers and directors who, free from legal restraints, produced movies that challenged moral standards.  In 1969, for example, the film Midnight Cowboy touted homosexual themes that repulsed many critics.  But the Hollywood elite awarded the film Best Picture of the Year and gave its director, John Schlesinger, a homosexual, the Best Director award.

By the mid 1990’s, the entertainment industry had produced hundreds of pro-homosexual themed films that were viewed by millions.  As standards were lowered, TV producers presented homosexuality in a positive light with such programs as Will & Grace, which Vice-President Biden said help shift public opinion in favor of homosexuality more than “anything anybody has ever done so far.”  During this time, the LGBT community were launching propaganda that shifted homosexuality from a moral issue to a discrimination issue. 

Today, older Americans are shocked by the rapid changes in our culture: the increase in homosexuality, the legalization of narcotic drugs, disrespect toward police, violence in our streets, proliferation of sexual immorality, disobedience toward parents, unbelief in God, the mocking of Christians.  But for the past forty years, these have been common themes in the rock music industry as well as Hollywood.  The entertainment industry (which is more than just entertainment) has reshaped our culture.  This reshaping is spreading worldwide and is having a devastating effect on church growth.

Last week on Fox news, in response to the Supreme Court’s decision, Pulitzer-price winning commentator Charles Krauthammer was asked, “Why is America becoming secular?”  His first word was, ‘technology’.  Technology has given every American daily access to a secular values education program brought to us through music, TV, movies, and the internet.  He went on to say that “The secular left, realizing it wasn’t going to win through politics, decided to march through our cultural institutions: the universities, the media, and Hollywood.  Young people are no longer raised by their parents.  They get outside influence through their eyes and ears from the internet, through television, as never before in human history, 6 to 8 hours a day.  The left controls the culture, and the culture, in the end, drives the politics.”

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Encouraged

I returned this morning from our annual meeting of over 200 missionaries from Southeast Asia.  We were encouraged with inspiring messages, compelling testimonies, and refreshing fellowship.  I was blessed to receive a recognition of having served 30 years with “our company”.  

One area in the mega-city of Jakarta has seen 2,000 baptisms in the past 6 months.  Significant growth continues in areas of India and China.  Our 2 largest church planting movements in Southeast Asia have been in remote areas of Indonesia, far away from the influence of pop western culture.  But in areas where the influence of Hollywood is prevalent, church growth is declining.

We still hear of government persecution against church leaders, lives sacrificed for the gospel’s sake, and miracles from heaven that God uses to advance His kingdom.  Despite a world that increasingly loves the darkness, the love of Jesus is still shining, and will continue to do so until Christ returns.

For the past 3 weeks, my youngins (except for Jonathan who started his new job) have been traversing Europe (England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Italy).  David and Sara return later today so they can start back to work on Monday.  Hannah, Martha, and family-friend Allie, will stay another few days and return on Wednesday.  I’m so glad they have had the opportunity for this once in a lifetime adventure.  (If you are friends with any of them on Facebook, you can see some of their pictures.)

My focus returns to our work here in the west-central Philippines.  We have trainings scheduled, discipleship materials to update, our BOOST project to oversee, and people to visit who need to hear about Jesus.  I appreciate your prayers for our church leaders, for those involved in discipleship training, and for me, that I would stay near to God’s heart and focused on the task that He has given me the privilege to undertake.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

A Merry Month of May


My plane to the Philippines leaves in a few hours.  Jonathan starts his new job tomorrow.  The other kids have begun their trip across Europe.  Looking back, it’s been a good month.
 
Hannah made it through graduate school with all A’s.  She could easily pursue her doctorate, but she’s tired of academia and is ready to enter full time into the work force.  Like her sister, Martha graduated summa cum laude and has sent out a number of job applications, not yet knowing where she will practice her nursing skills.  She will take the nursing board exam in July.
 
On our drive back to Texas, Hannah, Martha, and I traveled through West Virginia to New River Gorge National Park, where I proposed to Jan nearly 32 years ago.  Back in Texas we enjoyed an all-day graduation celebration on the 15th, with about 40 of our family and friends attending.

On the 21st, we headed to Santa Fe, along with David’s girlfriend (yes, you heard that right!).  We enjoyed touring Santa Fe, hiking in a nearby canyon, and hiking 6 miles up into the Pecos Wilderness where we got caught in a little snow storm.  On the 27th, my brother, Steve, and I drove to Oklahoma and visited with several of our relatives.

Between trips and events we were able to have some good quality family time as we discussed various topics and just enjoy being together.  We have been so blessed as a family, and we know that it’s because many of you have faithfully prayed for us over the years.

I know it’s going to be busy when I arrive back in Iloilo in a couple of days.  I already have 2 training events lined up for the weekend.  But I’m so very grateful to have had this month to be with my kids.  Nothing has brought me greater joy than to see them grow into mature, responsible, fun-loving adults, who love the Lord and are impacting His kingdom for good.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Graduations

I’m excited! By this time next week I will be in the U.S. with my kids. Hannah graduates with her M.A. in history on Thursday, May 7. Martha receives her B.A. in nursing on Saturday, May 9. Jonathan turns 19 on Monday, May 11. David, Sara, Martha, and Hannah, along with Hannah’s best friend, Allie, will leave for a 3 week vacation to Europe on May 29. But until then, we will all be at David’s house for some enjoyable family time. I return to the Philippines on June 1.

It’s been nearly 2 years since I wiped the tears from my eyes as I drove away from Hannah’s apartment in Virginia, leaving her to the rigors of graduate school. Hannah chose James Madison University because of their quality graduate school and because they gave her a graduate assistant’s job, which paid full tuition plus some. Now, hundreds of books and dozens of papers later, she is done.

One of her crowning achievements, which has been placed in JMU’s Living Archives, is her digital exhibit thesis – a website that examines the recent history of a particular people group. Not surprisingly, Hannah chose to look into the lives of Filipinos living in the Shenandoah Valley of Virgina. You can see Hannah’s work here: sites.jmu.edu/lifeinthevalley

Likewise, Martha has done incredibly well, having excelled in Liberty University’s challenging nursing program. After 4 years of study, research, papers, clinicals, as well as ministry, counseling, and community service, Martha is ready to enter the job world. Martha’s long range goal is overseas mission work. But to use her nursing skills effectively, she needs to practice those skills in a hospital setting for at least a couple of years. She has begun to apply to hospitals and will also have to take a state nursing board exam sometime in mid-summer.

Jonathan could have graduated with his Associate’s degree in Computer Networking this summer, but decided to extend his academic career for another semester in order to take a couple of extra classes that will help him reach higher level certifications. But the best news for Jonathan is that he applied for and was accepted to a full-time job at the Dallas campus of Cisco, Inc., the world’s largest supplier of computer networking and internet equipment. He begins his new job the first of June and will continue to live with Sara and David.

For those of you in the Fort Worth area, you are invited to David’s house on Saturday, May 16, to celebrate Hannah’s and Martha’s graduations. Part of our family time during the month will likely include a 4 day hiking trip into the mountains of Santa Fe, New Mexico on Memorial Day weekend. But mainly we just want to enjoy our evenings together, relaxing in David’s living room, reflecting on the past, cherishing the present, and praying for the future.

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.