Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Great News from David...



Greetings!

As many of you know, one month ago on July 19 I (David) asked an incredibly kind, intelligent, talented, and lovely woman, Andrea Byrne, to spend the rest of her life with me in marriage and service to our Lord.  We had spent the morning together with her family worshiping the Lord at Friendswood Friends, her home church near Houston, Texas and before hitting the road to head back up to Fort Worth, I suggested revisiting a park near her house - the first park we had explored together when we saw each other for the first time in the spring.  The weather that day contrasted sharply with the warm, languid air that hung around us, but the trees and grass still shimmered in vibrant shades of green.  We found a pair of trees in a clearing near the creek, and as I strung up our hammock I nervously thought of how I ought to present the ring to Andrea and how I could possibly communicate to her all the thoughts and convictions that filled my mind and had led me to this moment.

After all, for most of my life marriage was not something I had even considered.  I knew that it represented a solemn, serious commitment that was not to be taken lightly, but honestly it seemed the effort was not worth the reward.  I was happy by myself.  Since the intent of dating and courtship was to understand someone for the purpose of marriage, I did not engage in those activities either.  God had blessed me with a great career, a loving family and good friends and I simply did not feel an urge or desire to enter the turbulent world of romantic relationships, fearing the emotional landmines that littered the fields of miscommunication and the hurt feelings that would inevitably result.  It seemed like I had good, biblical reasons to stay single as well.  In 1st Corinthians 7 Paul encourages his readers to remain single and be free from the anxious desire to please their spouse.  However, Paul did not say this so that his readers could achieve some zen-like hermetic inner peace, but "for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord." (1 Cor. 7:35).  

So then, was my attention indeed undivided to the Lord?  Was I using the energy and flexibility of my single years to His glory, or taking my free time and spending them in pursuit of self-gratification?  By God’s grace I had avoided many of the pitfalls of youth and maintained a pleasant, inoffensive life, but was that God’s purpose and design for me?  Was there anything I could do differently to draw closer to God, understand Him, and become more like Christ?

As these thoughts weighed on me, so did the queries of friends, mentors, and relatives about my interest in dating, relationships, and marriage.  “Nope, not interested!” was my standard reply when asked if I had any new thoughts in that domain or if I would like to meet someone special.  Their persistence, however, led to an awareness of my apparent eligibility, that I could bring joy and happiness to someone through marriage. The testimony of many older Christian couples as well as recently married friends and the joy that their marriage facilitated also served as a great encouragement.  Concurrent with this new realization I discovered that responsibility and leadership were not necessarily dark, burdensome, thankless chores, but powerful motors for maturing as a believer in Christ. 

One instance of this was the process of buying and maintaining the first house the Moses family ever had, with all the responsibility and commitment that entailed.  It was daunting and stressful, but the satisfaction of providing a place for my siblings to settle and rest more than made up for it.  Around the same time I started teaching a very small Sunday School class at our church, a service that I initially approached with much apprehension but which also transformed my prayer life and spurred me to know the material and God’s word with greater breadth and depth.  Both my siblings and my Sunday School students were incredibly gracious, kind, and patient and after a year living in our house and teaching the class, I no longer saw responsibility and leadership - some of the things I feared I would lack as a husband in marriage - as enemies, but friends.

The final means that God in His sovereignty encouraged my pursuit of marriage was a series of sermons by Matt Chandler, called A Beautiful Design.  It was inspired in response to questions from the congregation about why the Village Church held that men and women should relate to each other in a complementary fashion, each filling distinct, biblically based roles in family and ministry and how to live that truth out in today’s culture.  I had never before heard with such clarity and passion how incredible it is that God made men and women distinctly and how marriage can serve as a beautiful picture of God’s love for His church.  At the end of the series, I wrote my Dad the following letter:

One principle that's become increasingly clear is how God uses marriage to sanctify people.  It's one thing to read the Bible, know God's principles, and reflect on his goodness, but marriage provides unique opportunities to apply the Word, exercise those principles, and witness his goodness.  As the author of an article I read said: "I can learn about Jesus when I read the Bible and feel close to Jesus when I pray. But I BECOME like Jesus (spiritually formed) when I give my life to a spouse, a child, a grandchild, and others whom God places in my home."  As Christians we are indeed called to become more like Christ, transformed day by day into his image. 

I've often wondered how am I supposed to live this, practically speaking, beyond simply being a well behaved, polite person and a good employee.  In short, what is my calling in this regard?  Ephesians 5 shows us how husbands can model Christ's love for the church via self-sacrificial love for their wives.  Absent a call to an area of ministry best served via singleness, being the husband in a marriage relationship is an opportunity that God has offered all Christian men.  It seems like it would be cowardly at best, disobedient at worst, for me as a man to ignore this domain of spiritual development.  

Modeling Christ's love as a husband is certainly a daunting task and incredible challenge.  However, you've told us many times that one's faith is best developed in the midst of challenges.  One of my most consistent prayers over the years has been for God to draw me closer to Him by providing opportunities to exercise my faith and trust in Him, and I believe that marriage and family is indeed an answer to that prayer.  I'm under no illusion that it will be an easy, serene, carefree experience.  After all, if it were, where would the opportunities be for self-sacrifice and spiritual growth?
 
And thus, with a bit of a martyr’s spirit, I began to earnestly pray and ask God to show me how to seek and whom I should pursue.

It did not take long to realize that I had been quite successful at limiting my contact with other Christian women my age.  As I asked friends and family if they knew of anyone and began to become more involved in ministry I also subscribed to a small, somewhat obscure website called marrywell.org, created to foster conversations about singleness, courtship, and marriage within a community of marriage-minded Christian singles.  The articles and discussion provided much food for thought and on Thanksgiving of 2014, I received a cheerful inquiry from “TrumpetGirl” asking about my life growing up overseas, as she had a similar background as a missionary kid and then missionary woman in Mexico. I learned that her name was Andrea and that she currently taught private music lessons, mentored a younger lady, and facilitated a sunday school class at her church. We constantly surprised ourselves and our friends by how much we had in common and how similar we were in our habits and thoughts.   

As our exchanges grew in length and depth, I was increasingly impressed by her intelligence, clarity, compassion, but most of all her passionate love of Christ and desire to become more like Him.  In February I asked her father’s permission to speak with her and we began making weekend visits to each other in the spring.  Throughout the period of our friendship we discussed each other’s past, our personalities, our motivations, and our goals in an attempt to determine if we should enter into courtship and seek God’s will for us in marriage.  After much prayer, encouragement from my godparents the Helms, affirmation from my family, and more prayer, Andrea and I began courting in May and talking seriously about what marriage might look like for us and how God could use such a union.  As rich as it was to be with Andrea, it was the joy of seeing her again returning from a three-week trip to Europe when I realized that Andrea was indeed the one God was calling me to marry.  My thoughts were not that of a brave martyr, but of a man filled with joy, peace, and purpose in anticipation of a life spent with one of the wisest, godliest, most compassionate women I had ever met.


And so it was on July 19 I summoned the courage to ask Andrea if she would indeed join me.  To my pleasure and delight, she said yes!  For Andrea, the most central passage of her life is Ephesians 5:1-2. “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”  What better way to imitate Christ than to become close to someone who models Him and causes you to desire to become more like Him?  That motivation is what has drawn us toward each other and toward the path of marriage, mutual service, and love.  

The Tribe of Moses is excited to welcome a new member into the family!  Andrea and I will be married on November the 7th of this year.  Sara will move in with a good friend from Inglewood and Jonathan will get an apartment closer to his work in North Dallas.  While the family dynamics will certainly change, I am confident that God will use our marriage to enrich our family, especially if he blesses Andrea and me with children!  

I suppose that’s a bit further down the road...

Monday, August 3, 2015

When God Doesn't Make Sense



One of my biggest blessings this year has been the testimony of Bro. Jun (see Feb. 20 entry).  After experiencing kidney cancer nearly 2 years ago, God exalted this humble servant and led him to revive the church he now pastors.  On June 4, we ordained him.  Two days later, it was confirmed that his cancer had returned and metastasized.  Now he is in deep pain, doubtful that he will make it to Christmas.

One doesn’t have to live long in the Christian life before running up against situations that just do not make sense.  A Christian soldier is killed, others unharmed.  A tornado destroys a church building, leaving surrounding structures intact.  An innocent child is kidnapped and tortured, his captor never caught.  An immoral man becomes wealthy, an honest Christian looses his job.  It’s a question often asked by the prophets of old, “Lord, why do the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer?” (Psalm 73:3; Jer. 12:1; Job 21:7; Hab. 1:4)

Before we claim to know the answer, let’s recall these words: “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter” (Prov. 25:2); “The secret things belong to the Lord” (Deut. 29:29); “Truly you are a God who hides Himself” (Isaiah 45:15); “As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the maker of all things” (Eccl. 11:5).  Sometimes God may reveal to us why a particular trial comes, other times He’s silent. 

Many people willingly make sacrifices, such as a mother who gives her life in order to save her child, or a soldier who sacrifices his life for his country.  But what is particularly troubling is when we can’t find a purpose for the suffering; when we can’t see God behind it.  Job (23:2-9) complained, “If only I knew where to find Him… I would state my case before Him…  But if I go to the east, He is not there; if I go to the west, I do not find Him.  When He is at work in the north, I do not see Him; when He turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of Him.”

So what are we to do when God seems absent during a tidal wave of adversity?  James Dobson, in His book, When God Doesn’t Make Sense, recommends that we camp our thoughts on three truths.  First, God is present and involved in our lives even when we don’t see Him.  Like the 2 disciples on the road to Emmaus who didn’t recognize Jesus, even though He was beside them, we choose not to trust our emotions, but to believe God’s Word.  “I will never leave you,” Jesus said. (Matt. 28).  God is “a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov.18).  “If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Thy hand will lead me, and Thy right hand will lay hold of me” (Psalm 139).

Second, God’s timing is perfect, even when He seems late.  Mary and Martha were certain God was too late in coming to the aid of their deceased brother, Lazarus.  But God’s purposes could only be accomplished by coming when He did.  When tragedy strikes, some of God’s purposes may be seen, but other purposes will never be understood this side of heaven’s gates.  And that’s when we remember a third truth: For reasons that are impossible to explain, we are incredibly precious to God.

“What is man that you make so much of him, that you give him so much attention, that you examine him every morning?” (Job 7).  David said in Psalm 8, “What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?”  “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me.  You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.  You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways…” (Psalm 139).

So why did kidney cancer have to strike Bro. Jun?  (I can understand me getting kidney cancer; no problem with that!)  In fact, I could make a long list of people who I think make better candidates for kidney cancer.  I can give God the list whenever He’s ready for it!  But in the shadows of heaven there works a wisdom and purpose far higher than I could ever see.  What He HAS given to me and you are precious truths that can see us through any dark storm of adversity:  God is always with us, He is never late, and for some unimaginable reason, we are precious to Him.

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.”