Tuesday, April 18, 2017

An Oasis of Refreshment

“I never knew we were so many.”

“This has been one of the most wonderful weeks of my life.”

“I have learned so much this week.”

"This is what heaven must be like." 

“I have been made happy!”

These were some of the comments during our final worship capping our 3 day retreat.  216 church members coming from our 22 churches gathered at a comfortable sea-side resort about 45 minutes outside Iloilo City.  Inspirational worship services, informative workshops, encouraging fellowship, abundant food, and lots of fun characterized the well-planned retreat.  For many of the attendees, this was the nicest place they had ever stayed in.

Nearly half of our church delegates were young people, age 16 and up.  At a time in their life when they are bombarded with intense temptations and life-changing decisions, the retreat provided them with a much needed Biblical worldview from which to make wise choices.  Our topics included, Knowing the Difference between Love and Lust, Understanding Youth Conflicts and finding Biblical Solutions, How to Build Godly Relationships, Learning to Discern the Dangers in our Technology-centered Culture.  

For our older folks, we had topics of Financial Freedom, Balanced Leadership, Sharing God’s Word, Raising a Godly Family, and Health and Wellness.  During each of our 3 worship services, at least 2 of our pastors gave testimony of God’s work in their lives.  We saw them as real people with real struggles, all relying on a wise and powerful God.  On Good Friday, all of us participated in a dramatic presentation of the Jewish Passover meal as we learned how each of the elements in the meal pointed to Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of the Messianic promise.

Of course, all were very grateful to the IMB and to those individuals who contributed so much so that the people here could attend the retreat at minimal cost.  Actually, the cost per person for the 3 day retreat was about $45, the price for a budget hotel room for 1 night in the U.S.  But here, a dollar can be stretched so much further and accomplish so much more.  Everyone voiced their desire to do this again, but budget limitations means that it is uncertain if we can ever do this again.

The retreat concluded with 3 new believers being baptized in the resort’s large swimming pool.  At a time when worldly influences and cultural pressures are oppressing God’s people, the retreat was an oasis of refreshment.  Thank you so much for each of you who prayed.  My goal was to see God’s people encouraged in their faith and, based on the comments I heard, that goal was aptly met.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Sharing the Message of Jesus

In the Philippines, the school year ends in late March, with baccalaureate services and graduation ceremonies crowding the final week.  Student leaders and college professors are in the hunt for speakers, which often gives me the opportunity to do what I enjoy doing – talking about Jesus. Of the seven major universities in our city (the most in any city of the Philippines outside Manila) I have had the privilege to speak in four.

Yesterday, over a hundred graduating students from Western Visayas State University gathered for a one-day retreat, with me as their speaker.  For 3 hours I shared about God’s design for men and women as image bearers of our Creator.  Instilled with the purpose of reflecting God’s nature, mankind failed in his mission when he chose sin rather than obedience.  But with Christ’s payment of our death penalty and His offering of the Holy Spirit, the opportunity to reclaim our life purpose is available to anyone who calls on the name of the Lord.  I concluded with an invitation to join God’s kingdom.

Afterwards I reflected about the secularization of America and realized how difficult it would be today to share the message of Jesus in a state-run university.  With the increasing moral and intellectual depravity that is inflicting America’s youth, the message they need to hear the most is now largely outlawed in our schools.  While the worldly influences of pop-western culture continue to spread around the world like a plague, the people of the Philippines maintain an openness to things that are eternal.  At some point in the near future I suspect the Philippines will surpass the United States in terms of openness to the gospel.  We will need missionaries from the Philippines to carry the gospel to American shores!

As a part of building God’s kingdom here, we will be having our 3-day retreat on April 12-15 during Holy Week with the largest gathering we’ve ever had of our churches from this part of the Philippines.  Please continue praying that the Lord would pour out His Spirit and grace in every participant and that all would be done for God’s glory.  Also, tomorrow is our 7th BOOST graduation of our agricultural and Bible training ministry.  Pray for the 13 young men who will be returning to their home places, prepared to share with their family and friends what they have learned from God’s Word.

On the home front, baby Moses continues to develop inside her mommy’s tummy.  David and Andrea are preparing their house for her arrival around the 1st of August.  Sara has moved into a new place, a house shared with 2 other Christian ladies.  She is now 8 minutes away from where Jonathan lives and 15 minutes away from the apartment of Martha and Philip.  In addition to her work at the George Ranch, Hannah and a friend have teamed together as conference speakers, traveling to different places in the U.S. to train organizations on how to effectively work with volunteers. She and her siblings try to get together at least once a month, usually at David’s house, for family fellowship.

I hope your Spring is off to a good start and that you are experiencing the presence of our Lord at work in your life.  Blessings to each of you who read these updates.  Your prayers make a difference!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

A Prayer Request

Are any of you old enough to remember week-long church revivals?  My home church in Fort Worth used to have one sometimes two “revivals” every year.  We would begin on a Sunday morning and continue every night until the following Sunday.  Each evening worship service would have special music and an invited speaker who would challenge us to renew our calling to serve the Lord.  An alter call was given at the end of each service for church members and guests to respond to God’s voice.  I remember seeing hundreds respond during the week with renewed commitments to follow the Lord.

As our modern culture got more modern and less godly, revival services became a tradition of the past.  In recent years, some churches have attempted to call God’s people together for a time of renewal.  But instead of one week, the ‘revival’ is reduced to a couple of nights or maybe a weekend.  Even then, members are too busy and usually few attend.  Such is the direction of our culture and the Church.

The Church in the Philippines is no different.  As modern media continues it’s secular indoctrination through TV, movies, internet, music, and other outlets, it seems fewer people care about things that are eternal.  The effect on God’s Church has been severe; no doubt a reflection of God’s response when His people fail to “call on the name of the Lord your God.”  But no matter how strong evil becomes, God will always act on behalf of those whose hearts belong to Him – 1 Chronicles     .

In an effort to do what we can to slow the secular tide, I have planned a 3 day retreat for our church members during the later part of Holy Week, April 12-15.  The IMB will be covering most of the cost (with my famiy chipping in a generous amount).  We have reserved a seaside resort that provides air-conditioned rooms, a large swimming pool, a small children-friendly zoo, and all-you-can-eat meals.  Most of our church members, who are rather poor, have never experienced a place such as this.

During the 3 days, we will have conferences and workshops on topics such as How to Raise a Godly Family, Financial Freedom, Evangelism and Discipleship, Servant-Leadership, and Dealing with Conflicts.  We will have nightly worship that will aim to challenge every participant to put God first in their lives.  More than 200 adults have already signed up.  This will be the largest gathering of our churches in the history of our work in this part of the Philippines.

Please pray for revival!  Pray that every participant will come with an expectation to encounter God, to hear His voice, and to respond in humble obedience.  Pray for the speakers, worship leaders, and other workers, that everything we do will be to God’s glory.  Ask God to bind the enemy from causing disruptions, disorder, or confusion.  Pray that each one will be challenged to return home, eager to be God’s ambassador to their family, school, business, and community.  Thank you for praying.  Lord, Your Kingdom come!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

New Zealand

In the southwest corner of New Zealand’s southern island is an area that is geologically unique, the elements of which combine to create a trail that some have described as the most beautiful walk in the world.  The glacially carved Southern Alps, as the mountain range is so named, rise dramatically from the Pacific ocean.  Relatively young in geological terms, absent are the foothills that characterize much of the Rocky Mountains in the U.S. and other older mountain chains.  The result are walls of majestic mountains that rise vertically from the valley floors.
The Milford Sound

In addition, warm waters from ocean currents bring moist air that empty their clouds upon contact with the cold mountain air.  Receiving over 250 inches of rain per year, Fjordland is one of the rainiest places on the globe, producing a rare temperate climate rain forest primarily of southern evergreen Beech trees.  With this much rain emptying from the skies, waterfalls pour from the steep mountain sides like streams of silver strings.

An amazingly lush trail
So popular is the Milford Track that the New Zealand government must limit the number of trekkers.  Only 40 independent hikers per day are allowed, and even then they can hike only in one direction and must stay each night in designated shelters.  ‘Tickets’ for the hike went on sale last May 8 and were sold out within minutes for the entire hiking season.  But I was able to get two for Hannah and I.

Beautiful waterfalls
Being in the southern hemisphere, New Zealand’s summer is America’s winter.  On Feb. 2 Hannah and I boarded a small speed boat that carried us across New Zealand’s largest lake.  After 2 hours, we were dropped off at the beginning of the Milford Track.  For the next 3 days, Hannah and I walked through the most beautiful landscapes we had ever seen.  The trails were lined with giant ferns and flowering plants.  Tree trunks were covered with soft green moss.  And every where we went, snow-capped mountains towered on either side of us, with dozens of waterfalls always in view.

Hannah at the mountain pass
Sara joined us at the end of the Track where we enjoyed a boat ride through Milford Sound, described as the eight natural wonder of the world.  This is the only place in the southern hemisphere where fjords can be seen – glacially carved valleys that dip into the ocean, like those seen along the coast of Norway.  Once again, hundreds of waterfalls poured from mountain heights emptying into clear ocean waters.  The beauty was breathtaking.

During the rest of our vacation in New Zealand, we toured many of the Lord of the Rings movie sights, including Mt. Edoras, Mt. Doom, and Hobbiton – the Shire.  We also saw geothermal features, a red-wood forest, and the beautiful New Zealand countryside.  Overall we were overwhelmed with the beauty of God’s creation and blessed to experience it.  But I suspect that what we saw represents only a tiny glimpse of the beauty and glories that await us in God’s eternal kingdom.  Now that is something to eagerly look forward to.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

10 Years

February 8 will be 10 years since Jan’s ‘promotion’ to heaven.  We all miss her but I know she is alive and well, enjoying her faith-earned rewards.  I still see the impact of her life here in the Philippines through the people she ministered to.  Many of them have gone on to become church leaders.  Others have started their own families and raise good children.

Of course, her greatest impact was in her own family.  Jan was never far from my mind last month at Martha’s wedding.  On the one hand, I know Jan would have enjoyed the event.  But as Jan said in her own words, “Don’t grieve for me.  I know where I’m going.”  I choose to believe that somehow Jan already knows the good things that has happened to her children and the good things yet to come.

One of the good things to come will begin tomorrow when I leave the country for 16 days.  Sara, Hannah, and I will meet in New Zealand for 2 weeks of adventure through Middle-earth (the setting for the fictional film, The Lord of the Rings).  We have been planning this vacation for about a year.  Hannah and I will do a backpacking trip along the Milford Track, acclaimed as one of the most beautiful hikes in the world winding its way through luscious forests, glaciered valleys, and majestic mountains.  We will pass one of the tallest waterfalls in the world.

At the end of the hike, Sara will join us at Milford Sound, said to be one of the most awesome natural wonders of the world where the ocean fingers its way inland between towering mountains and thundering waterfalls.  We will spend Hannah’s birthday kayaking on the blue waters of the sound as we enjoy God’s creation.  We will then travel to Christchurch, Wellington, Whakapapa National Park, and end at Rotorua where we will visit the Shire (another Lord of the Rings location).

Jan loved to travel and see new places.  So Sara, Hannah, and I will continue this family tradition of making precious memories that we can carry with us for a lifetime.  Jan also looked forward to the day when our family would grow.  We now have Andrea and Philip, plus one more.  David and Andrea are expecting their first child by the beginning of August!  A new generation who can benefit from Jan’s godly legacy.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Humble Endurance

The land was flooded. With water on both sides, the dirt road ran straight north like a bridge from the bottom of the hill to an elevated place along the horizon.  My passengers were a poor Filipino couple who had attended one of our Simply The Word trainings.  Their home lay beyond a clump of trees just above the water about a quarter of a mile east of the road. 

“Sa lugar lang, palihog” (Stop here, please), the husband said.

“Here?” I questioned.  “But there is nothing here.  All I see is a waiting shed.”  The flood waters stretched like an ocean on both sides of the road.

“Yes,” he said.  “There is a trail from here.  We know where it is.”

Reluctantly, I pulled over and watched them descend from the road without complaint and wade into the water, waist deep, slowly making their way toward the clump of distant trees.  I knew that under the water, at their feet, was a narrow foot path raised about a foot above the submerged rice fields.  A wrong step would likely send them completely under water with their belongings on their back.  But they had done this many times before.  I admired their strength and endurance.

Two weeks ago, after the flood waters had receded, I walked the same path.  Even without the water, I had to be careful.  These paths were not made for us big footed foreigners.  I calculated each step.  Once into the clump of trees, several bamboo/nepa houses appeared.  My pastor/friend and I continued along the path, past barking dogs, busy chickens, waddling ducks, and some chirping birds.

We arrived at the Filipino couple’s home, slightly better built than the others. Tall trees surrounded the house.  A nearby garden showed where some of their food came from.  On one side of the house, bamboo poles held up a cheap plastic tarp, a lean-to tent shelter to give shade for those who came to worship.  About 20 were seated on rough planks held up by A-frame legs of wooden boards. 

The message was about another couple whose wife had been 8+ months pregnant with her first child, the husband too poor to afford a place to deliver the baby.  Mary and Joseph had to settle for a dirty barn.  Months earlier, an angel told Mary that her child, conceived by the Holy Spirit, was the Son of God.  But with no midwife, hot water, or even diapers, their circumstance didn’t fit their idea of where the Son of God should be born.

God’s ways are so different than man’s.  I assured those under the tent that their humble lifestyle was not an indication of God’s absence.  On the contrary, it may be an indication of God’s favor.  I glanced at the couple in whose humble home I was a guest.  I felt sure that someday in eternity, I would be seated in their heavenly mansion which would be far bigger than mine.  And that made me feel honored and blessed to be in their presence now.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Finding Joy

The children lined up in single file, each eager with anticipation of receiving a colorful plastic toy.  Such a toy would be quickly discarded by most American kids as being cheap and ordinary.  But for these impoverished children, such a toy was a treasure.  Moments later, the parents received food baskets of rice, powdered milk, coffee, and other common goods.  Given in Jesus’ Name, these were likely the only gifts these poor but faithful folks received this Christmas.

The scene was repeated in 3 other places where we had churches.  Eager children lined up for a simple but precious toy while their parents were blessed with food items they likely could not afford.  After the gift giving, we shared a gospel message of love and hope.  All together, about 130 families received food baskets and 200 children received toys and fruits.

However, perhaps more amazing was the source of food and gifts.  Not from me or my ministry.  But they were all given by one lady who wanted to bless many needy Christian families.  A lady whose husband, a pastor, had died earlier this year from cancer.  A lady who was struggling to take over the family business.  A lady who had to figure out how to continue raising her own 4 children alone.  A lady who, a few months ago, had also been diagnosed with cancer and was now undergoing treatments.

But also a lady who has learned that greater joy comes from giving rather than receiving, that blessings are better shared than kept, and that the best way to avoid dwelling on our own hardships is by helping those whose hardships are deeper than mine.  She also instructed me to give the gifts anonymously.  “Don’t mention my name to anyone.  Tell them that these are blessings from the Lord.”  And so I did.

Christmas 2016 is over.  Today, as I write, is the first day of a new year.  We hope it will be a happy one.  But if experience is consistent, it will also be a year of unexpected disappointments, seasons of sadness, and momentary times of turmoil.  There will be days when happiness seems elusive, but genuine joy will greet those who step away from their own trials and choose to ease the trials of others more needy than themselves.