Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Love Month

It’s been a week since Valentine’s Day has come and gone.  But here in the Philippines, love is the topic for the entire month.  Hearts and cupids hang in the department stores until the red and pink commercial stock has been sold.  Love songs fill the radio waves and love stories shine on the silver screen.  In our churches, love is the theme for all four Sundays.

Valentine’s Day was a holiday that didn’t receive too much emphasis in our home-schooled family.  Why dabble with romantic emotions when you are not yet over puberty!  For me, growing up as a cross-eyed fat boy, Valentine’s Day was always a painful reminder of what I didn’t have.  During my first year of marriage, I completely forgot about the holiday.  Jan didn’t speak to me for a whole day!

But my biggest objection to the event is the wrong meaning that modern man has pasted onto an otherwise incredible beautiful word.  When I tell people that I serve here in a 3rd world country because God has given me a love for Filipinos, it would be incorrect to think that my commitment to serve is based on a continual emotional fondness for the people.  While I do have many wonderful Filipino friends here, my ministry to them is based on something far more solid than heat-felt feelings.

When Jesus taught His followers about love, He could have used the common thought expressed in the Greek word “storgee”, which is affection for someone because of your connectedness to them, such as a family member or marriage partner.  But Jesus never used its Aramaic equivalent.  He could have used ‘phile-o’, which is affection for someone (or something) because of qualities he/she possess.  Indeed, Jesus did use it a few times, but mostly in a negative way about those who ‘love’ to sit in the place of honor, or about the way the world loves its own (John 15:19).

To express genuine love, Jesus selected the thought expressed in a Greek word that was rarely used and existed only in verb form to describe those times when a person would sacrifice himself for the benefit of another, such as a soldier for his country or a mother for her child.  Jesus took that word, ‘agape-o’ and turned it into a noun, then told people where it came from (1 John 4:7).  The Bible says that only those who possess God’s Holy Spirit can faithfully show this kind of unconditional, sacrificial love that is based on an inward desire to help someone else regardless of any benefit they might bring to you (Gal. 5:22).

One word that the Bible never uses is ‘eros’, which is a passionate selfish desire for someone, usually sexual.  A close synonym would be ‘lust’.  No Biblical writer would have ever used ‘eros’ in the context of love because it means almost the exact opposite.  Unfortunately, when ancient scribes translated Greek writings into the English language, some unspiritual men used the same word ‘love’ for both ‘agape’ and ‘eros’, an enormous error that, to this day, causes much confusion about love’s true meaning.

So, I let Valentine’s Day pass, except to use it as an opportunity to talk about God’s love.  Indeed, God has given me His love to pass on to Filipino people, a task for which I feel overwhelmingly inadequate.  But with your prayer support and God’s grace, maybe enough of His love can find its way through me to make a meaningful impact on those God has called me to serve.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Baptist Global Response

Our International Mission Board (IMB) discovered many years ago that Southern Baptists give generously to help relieve the suffering of needy people.  Whether it’s a typhoon that destroys a village (a short-term acute need) or an impoverished city in a 3rd world country (a long-term chronic need) Southern Baptists want to help. 

Baptist Global Response (BGR) was created by Southern Baptists about a dozen years ago to connect people with needs to people who care.  As a partner organization of the IMB, BGR relies upon the IMB’s 4000+ missionaries throughout the world to assist in managing BGR funds and projects.  Thus, nearly all BGR donations go directly to the people who need it.

Another advantage of BGR is how we help.  Most benevolent organizations collect money, food, clothes, and supplies, then give it directly to the people in need.  While this is generous, give-aways are monstrously expensive and usually creates dependency from the recipients toward the givers.  People are often hindered from learning how to solve their own problems.

Through BGR, we seek to bring together the people of a community and work through a process that helps them identify and solve their own problems.  While outside resources may be tapped, the emphasis is uncovering the human and natural resources within a community that are often overlooked when outside resources are more easily available. 

When a community successfully solves their own problem (planting trees, improve their farms, develop livelihood projects, organize labor teams, begin values education, dig wells, etc.), they can follow the same process and solve future problems.  Rather than becoming dependent on outside help, communities are strengthened by learning to work together, becoming smarter, gaining self-reliance, and growing in self-confidence.

As a Christian organization, BGR doesn’t limit itself to physical needs.  We understand that Biblical moral values are needed to grow a strong community and take away the vices (drugs, gambling, immorality, etc.) that destroy lives.  Jesus warned us that there’s no benefit if we “gain the whole world but lose our own soul.” 

When a community sees us helping them with their physical needs, they become far more receptive to hearing about their spiritual needs.  Our main goal is to help people discover the ultimate ‘resources’ they have through a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.  We aim to see churches planted in every village that can serve as training centers to build stronger communities and mature leaders.

I’ll write more in a future blog about how I am partnering with BGR in our area.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Mary Jane

Mary Jane never finished elementary school.  Abandoned by her parents before she ever had memory of them, Mary Jane was handed off from one unwanting relative to another, never feeling that anyone cared about her.  Finally, at an early age, she married a guy who said he loved her.  But after 12 years and 3 children, he left her for another woman, never to be seen again.

Mary Jane struggled to provide for her 3 children.  The oldest, a girl named BeBe, quite schooling after grade 3 so she could work to help provide for her 2 younger siblings, both boys.  This family of 4 lived in a one room nepa hut that leaked miserably during rainy season.

Last September, through the encouragement of a friend, Mary Jane enrolled in our BOOST program.  Skeptical at first, she soon heard about a God who cared deeply for her, even to the point of sacrificing His son as payment for her sins.  Mary Jane was baptized and, for the first time in her life, felt and understood unconditional love.  She was excited to show this love to her children and help them begin a relationship with Jesus Christ.  She chose to reenroll in our BOOST program so she could learn more.

But she did not arrive on January 8 with our next group of enrollees.  Nor was she there the next day.  On the evening of Jan. 9, her body was found stripped, raped, and beaten, left dead in a ditch.  She was last seen Saturday evening washing dishes during a town fiesta, where the men commonly drink too much.  As she left to go to the restroom, one of the drunk men likely followed and abducted her.  We don’t know which one, probably never will.

I believe God knew before Mary Jane was born that this would happen to her.  Graciously, God arranged for her to hear the gospel message and receive Christ as Savior and Lord.  Mary Jane is doing fine now, enjoying the rich rewards for those who have placed their trust in Jesus.  

God could have prevented this from happening to Mary Jane.  Just as He could have prevented John the Baptist from being beheaded, or Peter from being killed, or countless martyrs from being persecuted, or Jesus from being crucified.  But we live in an evil world where Christians are not exempt from its grasp.  More often, we are its target.  

For now, pray for BeBe, age 16, who now must raise her 2 younger siblings.  BeBe is somewhat scared and uncertain about the future, but she has begun attending our BOOST program and we have an obligation to help her as much as we can.  James 1: 27 says, “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress…”  

What happened to Mary Jane reminds me how awful this world can be, and how excited I am for heaven.  May we all be diligent to shine the light of Jesus for those living in this dark world so that evil will not win in the end.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Grateful Families

500+.  That’s how many Christmas gifts www.blessings.ph gave out to needy families.  Most of the gifts were food items.  The smaller gifts could feed a family of 4 for about 3 days.  The larger gifts could feed a similar family for a week.  We visited 6 churches, each time presenting a gospel message before distributing the gifts to grateful families.

Each of the places had stories to tell.  In a rural area of Barotoc Viejo, a teenage girl shared with me how she had to drop out of high school because her family lacked money to pay for her daily transportation.  In Lambunao, a family’s entire resources had been used up paying hospital bills for a sick child.  In Roxas, many elementary school kids cannot afford the required school uniform.  

Some of the stories were hopeful.  In Culassi, a church member had rededicated his life to the Lord after a couple of years of backsliding.  In New Lucena, a mother told of God’s many blessings despite her family’s financial hardships.  In Santa Barbara, a newly formed Bible study group had seen their first baptisms.

For every hardship story I hear, I know there are a million others just like it or worse.  But in a country that is still less than 10% Christian, the hopeful stories are far fewer.  Still, in every place we visited, we heard testimonies from God’s people that our Lord is very much at work giving hope and assurance to those who look to Him.

As we begin a new year, major challenges remain in sharing the light of the gospel in a country that is increasingly wrapped in spiritual darkness.  The average Filipino today has much less interest in eternal matters than when I first came to the country 30 years ago.  The negative influences of western media have infected the nation with a worldly value system that opposes the teachings of Christianity.  Added to that, our financial resources for evangelism and discipleship are much less today than before.

But historically God seems to delight in showing Himself strong in the absence of abundant resources or in the presence of difficult challenges.  From Gideon’s army of 300 men to the faithful servant, Daniel, in an exiled land, from the work of 11 dedicated disciples of Jesus to the committed leaders of the Protestant Reformation in the 1500’s, God is never hindered by the limitations of men.

Pray with me for a God-sized outpouring of His Spirit in the Western Visayas Region of the Philippines, as well as the entire country.  As 2018 begins, my commitment remains to be God’s servant and worker in this little corner of the world.

Friday, December 15, 2017

"In the Days of King Herod..."

One of my favorite Christmas stories is told by Ray Vander Laan in his outstanding series, That the World May Know.  The first verse of Matthew 2 tells us, “In the days of King Herod, Jesus was born…”  Herod the Great ruled over Judea, Galilee, and Samaria for 40 years until his death just a few months after Jesus’s birth.  Herod was one of the greatest kings the middle east had ever known.  But he was cruel, often killing those who opposed him.

Herod was an ambitious builder.  His projects included the new Jerusalem temple and the mountain top fortress of Masada.  One of his more famous buildings was the Herodium, his home place, one of the largest and most beautiful palaces of its time.  Built on top of a mesa, located a couple of miles from the little town of Bethlehem, the Herodium was a massive circular 120-foot fortress with dozens of marble floored rooms for guests, servants, and the King’s family.  Within the walls were gardens and pools, maintained with water carried up from deep ground cisterns.

But this Christmas story actually begins in Genesis 25, when Isaac’s pregnant wife, Rebekah, inquired of the Lord why the twins in her womb were struggling. God answered, “Two nations are in your womb; and two peoples shall be separated from your body.  One people shall be stronger than the other; and the older shall serve the younger.”  The first to be born was Esau, followed by Jacob.  Esau, the older, became the founder of the nation of Edom.  Jacob, the younger, continued the lineage of the Jews, from which Jesus came.  The prophecy was that the descendants of “the older shall serve [the descendants] of the younger.”  This prophecy was retold elsewhere in the Hebrew Scriptures.

When Mary and Joseph passed under the shadow of the Herodium on their way to Bethlehem, it took tremendous faith for them to believe that God had chosen them to bring forth His son.  Amazing faith was also shown by the shepherds and the magi who, when told that a king had been born, bypassed the Herodium -  the likely place for a kingly birth, and proceeded to the humble birthplace of Jesus.  But these people of faith chose to believe what God had said, and not what their eyes saw.  For King Herod was an Edomite, a descendant of Esau.  Mary and Joseph were Jews, descendants of Jacob.

Today, on the mesa outside of Bethlehem, rocks and ruins are all that’s left of Herod’s once glorious palace.  All of his mighty building projects have long ago been erased by the ravages of time.  For most people, the only thing they know about Herod, the descendant of Esau, is that he killed babies on that first Christmas.  But what of the baby born in a dirty hillside manger.  From the mountains of the Himalayas to the deserts of Africa; from the tropical jungles of Asia to the industrial lands of America, the name of Jesus, the descendant of Jacob, is praised and worshiped. 

The Herod’s of our day live in luxurious places, control lots of wealth, and exert incredible influence.  It’s tempting to think that they are the real power-brokers of our age.  But God still asks us to believe the Scriptures which say that those who believe in the Lord, Jesus Christ, who have His Spirit living in them, are the true power-holders of our time.  No matter how powerful the world appears, no matter how pervasive evil becomes, it’s the baby born in a manger who is still the King.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Thank You

Thanksgiving is over, or at least the holiday has passed.  Last Thursday I and another ‘Cano (as Americans are often called) along with his wife drove 4 hours to the home of still another ‘Cano and good friend TJ who lives with his wife in a neighboring province.  They prepared a feast of delicious foods appropriate for the holiday season.  

But the practice of thanksgiving is never over.  As I look back on 2017 there is much to be thankful for.  The 23 churches I work with, plus our outreach points, saw about 120 baptisms this year.  We estimate that the gospel was clearly presented to at least 2000 people.  My team and I conducted 16 trainings that focused on evangelism and discipleship.  We saw 28 people graduate from our BOOST program.

According to my blog statistics, the blog with the most ‘hits’ was in March when I asked for prayer support concerning our April Pastors Retreat.  Over 200 church leaders gathered for 3 days of training, encouragement, fellowship, and refreshment.  The success of that event has been seen in several of our churches as they experience renewed enthusiasm in doing the work of God’s kingdom.  THANK YOU to those who prayed.

But numbers and names can’t put a face to the many changed lives I’ve been blessed to see this year.  Archie graduated from our BOOST training last year, returned to his home place, started a church, and is now enrolled in a Bible school for further training.  Janice gave her life to the Lord a year ago.  She has grown rapidly in her walk with the Lord and today, still a senior in high school, she leads the youth in her church.  Just about every Sunday I’m speaking in one of our churches.  The new faces I see each time remind me that God is still mightily at work.

If you have a couple of minutes, click here to see a short inspirational message from our IMB president, David Platt.  Because of your partnership, 87,000 people from around the world have professed faith in Christ this past year, along with 4,000+ new churches.  Because of your generous giving and prayer support, God’s kingdom is growing.  From the mountains of Nepal to the deserts of central Africa, from the progressive urban cities of Europe to the tropical jungle villages of Indonesia, God is at work.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

60

An awful thing happened to be last week.  It’s dreadful to think about.  I can’t believe it finally came upon me.  I turned 60!  In the Philippines, I’m now a senior citizen!  Middle-aged has turned into the golden years.  Well, I’m reminded what the Scripture says in 1 Cor. 4, “We do not lose heart, but though the outer man is decaying [nice choice of words], yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.”  I guess another way to say it is, “Although I don’t look great on the outside, I can still be young at heart!”

On the family side, Martha and Philip have moved to Virginia to be near his parents.  Martha will begin looking for a nursing job after Christmas.  Christy continues to grow.  David and Andrea took her on her first camping trip last week to the shores of Broken Bow Lake in SE Oklahoma.  Sara took a long weekend trip to Phoenix to visit a friend and Jonathan has made several out of state trips recently.  But the biggest news belongs to Hannah.

This week, Hannah got officially engaged to Daniel Kelogg.  Wedding date is March 25.  Daniel is from Tennessee and is finishing his Master’s degree in Public History this month.  He works at the George Ranch where Hannah also works, at least until the end of this week.  Hannah was selected to be the new manager of the Sauer-Beckmann Farm on the LBJ State Park and Historic Site, near Frederiksberg, Texas.  Visitors can tour the working farm and experience life as it was in the early 1900’s.  www.youtube.com/watch?v=78HWqzout3c  Hannah will be a level 3 Texas Park Ranger which is rare to see for someone still in her 20’s.

On the ministry side, a 3-day pastor’s retreat will keep me busy next week.  Then come Thanksgiving and the Christmas season which always fills my calendar with speaking opportunities and ministry events.  www.Blessings.ph will be giving away Christmas gifts to needy children beginning in early December.  Discipleship training, a BOOST graduation, and a reunion of former BOOST graduates will also be coming up in the next few weeks.

President Trump is in the Philippines today, ending his Asian tour.  North Korea remains a threat.  The news is full of sex scandals.  Government corruption continues to be exposed.  In a world full of uncertainties and turmoil, Jesus remains our solid rock, our refuge, our peace… even for men in their 60’s!