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.

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.

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.