Monday, January 23, 2017

Can You Wipe Your Own Bum?: Gaining Perspective on Life's Problems

I have been doing a bible study of sorts with many people via text and some of them send me their thoughts and perspectives on scripture we read, and I do the same.  Sometimes it turns in to personal discussions. This was one of those mornings.

I have a dear friend who never ceases to amaze me. He sent this to me this morning during our bible discussion as we were talking about our problems.  I had said something about viewing our problems with the correct perspective. He said he thought he understood a comment I made on keeping perspective on problems.

He wrote:
Can you wipe your own bum? Several years ago I had a friend who son was paralyzed from the neck down. I remember being bothered by stuff going on; just daily stuff and thought of that young man. I remember thinking I'll bet he would give anything to have my problems If he could  just get up and have them. He has to rely on somebody to wipe his butt.  How tough would it be for us to get used to?

It may come down to that...if you can wipe your own bum, life is good.

That may be my new catch phrase when people complain about things that are really small compared to the problems of others.

Perspective is  important, even in our prayer life.  Here is what started the conversation:

James chapter 5 day 2
I was asked by a gentlemen who is doing this study with me.
       James 5:16 the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. What hinders our prayers ? When we tell others we'll pray for them are we, or am I able, how clear is my slate that I can approach God and ask effectively enough on others behalf?
My response:
 I tell people that when they pray for my family, pray as though it was theirs. There is a 19 year old girl her that was in a wreck Friday. In ICU critical condition and in a coma. Family is asking for prayer that she wakes up. I told the congregation last night to pray like it was their child. Cry out and groan in the spirit. Honestly, We don't pray for others, many times, because we don't care as much as we tell them we do.  If we did, we'd pray and even fast for them. It's not so much about being worthy or having a clean slate to approach the throne, it is about ridding ourselves of selfish apathy.
James earlier says, let your yes be a yes. If you say you're going to pray...pray.

That led to questions about prayers of thanksgiving.
I wrote:

Do we invest as much time in thankful prayer as we do in placing our to go orders to God?  No.  Why?
Because we aren't that grateful because We have so much stuff.   If we were, we would truly be joyful.  As it is we are a miserable bunch of folks...even in the church. We have so much here, it's difficult to really be grateful.   Like a kid that is over indulged on Christmas. They don't appreciate anything because they have everything. Much easier to be thankful for food when you're starving.
Be thankful today. Those who have only months to live, make the most of each day. You were dead but now you are alive. Live like it.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Offended by the Status Quo

Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?
Caught in a landslide,
No escape from reality
                                                                                                                Bohemian Rhapsody
Reality is as Reality Does
I have been asked numerous times since returning, "How is it to be back in the real world?  What's it like to get back to reality?"  I think I know what they are asking but, when the feelings are raw it is hard to keep grace and mercy at the forefront.  Because I was in reality.  I was in the real world.  But it is a world the American church doesn't want to look at.  It does't want to see.  It is content to send the money (as long as it isn't too much...because we have needs here, don't you know).  We can't see the real world without destroying a worldview that isn't biblical.  We are the one's living in a fantasy. We live in a castle made of sand and the waves will eventually reach the beach.

Feeding the Hungry
There is a soup kitchen here in the USA that has a world class chef that prepares meals for it several times a year.  Yes, a chef that preps the meals and then serves them to the homeless.
In fact, he sets everything up as if it is a 5 star restaurant.  He volunteers to do this.  He was asked once the reason he went to so much trouble to feed the homeless when they would be happy with the normal meals provided.  His answer was interesting and of course ripe with spiritual truth.  He simply said, "I like to feed hungry people."  That's it.  He enjoys feeding hungry people.

I was asked recently why I enjoy preaching in Kenya and why I enjoy teaching pastors on the mountain i frequent while there.  My response,  "I like to feed hungry people".

I have know many of these pastors for over 5 years.  I have visited each of their 23 churches and prayed over each of their homes.  They are hungry for the word of God. They devour it and are ready for more.  They never look to a clock to see when their sports team is playing.  They don't continually tap their watches to let the pastor know that he has committed the unpardonable sin of going longer than the typical 30 minute, three point, alliteration filled sermon.  They walk for miles and miles to hear teaching form me when any one of them is probably more qualified and better read in the Word.  But they come because the word of God is being spoken and taught and they would never miss a chance to hear what the Holy Spirit revealed through one of His servants. They travel through storms, rain, and heat.  But that goes against the status quo.

I pastor a small town church and enjoy it immensely. I love the congregation.  However, I also know that many of the the members of mine and of the American church in general are spiritually fat.  They are neither assimilating nor exercising the spiritual truths they are being equipped with.  They are quite content to have the milk spooned-fed to them while either avoiding the meat all together,  or choking on it when it is presented.  I understand that not everyone is ready for the meat, not ready for the harder truths, not ready to fully understand what surrender looks like.  However, discipleship should encourage that very thing.  But that goes against the status quo.

This trip did change me...yet again.  God showed me that I needed to repent because I have let the fallacy of the American Dream creep into my biblical worldview, and it has NO place there!!!  Easy, there!  That goes against the status quo.   But God's word says this,  Romans 12:2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.  

His word does not stand for the status quo...ever!

We live in a world full of offended people.  I am one.  Many will be offended by this article, but guess what?  I am offended by the status quo of a passive, narcissistic, self serving culture that has infiltrated the church until the church looks more like the world than the bride of Christ she was called to be.   I know why the world turns from the many cases, it look like them except not as loving.

More coming soon.

Monday, January 16, 2017

What Does Success In Ministry Look Like....Not What the World Told Me for Sure!

I  pastor a church in a rural community and have been doing so for a year and a half.  When my family and I arrived May of 2015, there were 7 active members left.  The church had been around for well over 120 years and was known, as many small are churches, by the location of the cemetery that shares its name.

I made a declaration that if our numbers increased to 40 by the end of my first year, I would consider my ministry a success.  Did you catch that?  "My ministry".  Yeah, I know.  How presumptuous to take what God entrusted to me for His glory and call it mine, and then put a humanistic grading system on it.

Well, at the end of one year we had increased our number to the 50 mark.  So why didn't I feel the overwhelming sense of a successful pastor?  Would it take 60, 70, 80?

Now I never saw myself as a numbers type preacher.  In fact, unless I am trying to order materials etc, I don't even ask for the numbers...Though I DO notice when we have a larger group.  However, if that is the case, and I am not concerned with numbers, why did I make a declaration of success based on numbers when I first became pastor?  I firmly believe it had to do with the american (and even worldwide) idea that the more people you have, the better the ministry.  If you look at Jesus' ministry, it focused on and revolved around a group of 12 uneducated men and he changed the world.  Granted, he taught before huge crowds and had lots of people following him around, but only a few really followed Him.

The question I had to begin to ask myself was, "If I never saw the church grow past the original 7, could I have been content with that?" That led to the question, "What do I consider a successful ministry?"

I realized that a successful ministry has to do with how much we look like Jesus when it is all said and done.

Do we love like Him?
Do we speak like Him?
Do we see the world like Him?
Does religion give way to righteous anger while sinners seeking forgiveness and truth, regardless of their sin, open the door to grace and mercy?

Success in ministry for me is "to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ," Ephesians 4:12, and then, me serving alongside them.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Is Common Sense far too Common…in the Church, and a small part about the Duck Dynasty comments

Have you ever been called by God to a work, to a service, to a ministry?  I don’t mean the call we all have according to Matthew 29 or Acts 1 “Go ye therefore…” I mean a specific call directed at you and your family.  If you are a born again believer, I believe you have but sometimes common sense says, “Not now, I have children, a job, a mortgage, I am too old/young, I have a…(insert yours).  If you don’t know what I am talking about, this blog is not for you.  If you do know, then read on.

What do you do when you know God has told you something and you know He has put you where you are but everything else around you screams, “Go back”?  What do you do when you see a ministry apparently dissolving before your eyes even as you are confident that God initiated it?  From whom do you seek advice when common sense says, “Maybe the time wasn’t right”? “Maybe you got it wrong”.  What do you do when voices of doubt and dissent are yours?  What do you do when you begin to doubt your call to a ministry?  This is where I was on December 22, 2013. 

I called our home Church the Friday before Christmas and told our wonderfully wise Pastor Neal Thornburgh that we would be in Kenya illegally on Monday the 23rd of December if we did not have our extension in hand.  The government stopped giving 3 month renewals and the odds of getting our permit before the 23rd were insurmountable.  After a short discussion Brother Neal and I agreed that we did NOT need to stay illegally.  This meant leaving and not coming back to finish what we started.  You see for round trip airfare for a family of 10 to Kenya is a tidy some of money…which we did not have.  Just for one way was stretching us in a bad way.  But we purchased the tickets and would be leaving on Christmas Eve arriving in Dallas on Christmas Day…

Common sense was screaming “Go Home! You have done everything you could do.  Just go home and be there with family that misses you for Christmas”.  But then there was that gnawing in the pit of my stomach that said, “Yes, you have done everything YOU could but God has not done everything He can do.”  And just like that, our visa/work permit issues vanished.  With the secretary of immigration signing my paperwork.  Common sense said “stop”, uncommon sense said, “God will deliver.”

We use the word common sense to describe things we all assume everyone should know.  For instance common sense says that you do not use a hair dryer in the shower (yet there is still a label on hair dryers warning you not to do it).  Common sense also says don’t ask a woman if she is pregnant…ever!!! Even if she is 42 weeks along and has a baby on board tee shirt, don’t do it…still there are men and women alike that have made this mistake.  Common sense, many people lack it, but many others (Christians included) are far too beholden to it. 

To the average atheist, believing in God amounts to throwing out all sound judgment, common sense and intelligence and placing your trust in something outside yourself that you can’t see.  Hmmm, maybe they are on to something.  Until we get rid of all of the things the world says to trust, we can never really trust God.  Don’t misunderstand, God gave us intelligence, wisdom etc., but it is only by trust in Him that those attributes come to their full potential.  Think logically here with me for a moment.  What Christ says it takes to follow Him flies in the face of common sense and everything that is inside of us.  Matt. 10:37 “Unless a man hate his mother and father, or if he loves his son and daughter more than me, he is not fit to follow me…(Paraphrasing)” Luke 9:23 (also Matt. 10:38, 16:24, Mark 8:34) “…Take up their cross (instrument of torture and death for the one who carries it) and follow me.”  Or how about, “Go across the street and be my witness to the neighbors you don’t like, take your family to Africa where disease is rampant and life is different.”  Many of us say we would die for Christ if it came down to it, but He truly called for us to lay down our lives for His glory daily.  Are we doing that or does good old common sense step in and say, “That is NOT what He meant, that was for the first century church”? 

Granted, some of what is said has to be taken in context (Although most is direct commands and instruction), but we also like to cherry pick which scriptures we live by.  A favorite by many is Philippians 4:13 which says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”, But we neglect the verses preceding it that say that all of the “things” Paul could do revolved around being completely content regardless of the circumstance.  As much as we like the verse, “I can do all things…”  It had nothing to do with winning a football game, baseball game, etc.  I used this verse when we thought we were going home Christmas Eve, but I realized I still have a lot to learn about being content.

If I were to describe Peter, or Paul or any of the disciples of Jesus without you knowing whom I was describing, you would think they lacked common sense. 

Common sense says make sure everything is politically correct in our churches to ensure we grow but God’s Word says narrow is the gate that leads to life.  
Common sense says stand up for a Celebrity Christian who was ridiculed for his statement about sinful lifestyles, but God’s word says if they persecuted Christ then they will persecute you.  (Side note, I do not watch the Duck show, but I respect their Christian values.  However, why do an interview with an extremely anti-family, anti-Christian, male version of Cosmopolitan publication such as GQ and expect any kind of respect?  Don’t do interview with magazines like that...end of rant). 

I want others to understand that our family is NOT any more special than any of God’s other children.  We are not super Christians with all the answers and a perfected faith.  We are followers of Christ in corruptible bodies with weaknesses that are being sanctified daily like everyone else.  Our faith is built slowly day by day.  We get sad, angry, discouraged, and frustrated.  But that happened in America too.  Being a missionary doesn’t magically make your weaknesses disappear, if anything it highlights them and makes the target on your back bigger, which leads to more reliance on God which strengthens those weaknesses and highlights others which makes a bigger target in another area for which God gives you His strength which…. Well, you get the picture. 

Have you let common sense get in the way of your anointing or your obedience?  I have and it is not a good place to be.  God is building my faith everyday here, but I feel I am a slow learner, maybe one of the slowest.  Common sense says give up and go home, but maybe I have to much common sense.


Friday, November 15, 2013

Has Life in the Mission Field Changed My Political Ideology?

Those who know me know I am very conservative when it comes to political talk, policy and government intervention in citizen’s lives.  Those who know me very well, know that I am Ultraconservative in these areas.  However, since living in Kenya I have seen a transformation in how I view government. 

How is that for an opening?  Most of my conservative friends just gasped, my liberal friends are saying, “I knew you would come around”. 

So have I jumped ship on conservative thinking and gone to the left?  No.  Emphatically No.  If I were to have identified myself as far as parties, Republican was the party.  But my beliefs were not in line with the GOP.  They were more in line with Libertarian and almost identical with the Constitutionalist view (although not a full fledged party).

SO…what does this have to do with the mission field?  Well, I have seen what true poverty is and I have seen a government not just turn a blind eye to it, but actually promote it by its lack of interest and concern and its overpowering greed.  Do I think the Government should feed the people and care for all of the poor and give free healthcare etc. etc. etc?  Yes and no.  I think they should get out of the way and make it possible for the poor to be taken care of.

Here, I have seen a group of people who are constantly moving and seeking ways to better themselves.  They shy away from taking loans for fear they will not meet their obligations and become a financial burden to their children (interesting huh?).  They have wonderful ideas of self-improvement, wonderful dreams of getting out of the “slum life” but at every turn, there are roadblocks and obstacles they are unable to overcome.  The very government who promises to help them in every election creates many of these insurmountable obstacles.  It isn’t that I think the government should do more per-se but at least get out of the way and don’t impose taxes that stifle their ability to create a better life for themselves.

What about government aide?  When you mention the idea of a government giving away money, phones, cars, TVs, and many other luxury items to these people, they laugh and say, “Who would let someone give them this things for doing nothing? I would rather have a job and get these things on my own.”  And, “ what stupid person would give these things for no work?”  All of these are valid questions.  However lots of American money comes to this land.  But Much of it never reaches the people for which it was intended and instead lines the pockets of officials world wide.  From Americans to the UN, there is none innocent.  Even those claiming to be part of the Church have their fingers in the pot. 

It is difficult to sit by and watch a government turn a blind eye to the starvation of millions, but is it their job to stop it?  I think, No.  I think their job is to make sure there are adequate roads and public services into and out of their land and to defend and protect their territory from tyranny while making opportunities for help to be distributed unhindered.   

How do I think we should deal with the poverty and death and disease and the orphan and the poor?  It is simple and profound but not my thoughts at all.  They come from the Word of God.  The answer is the Church.  If the Church were truly doing Her Job, starvation might just be eliminated.  I feel we were put on this earth to bring glory to God and honor Christ’s name by how we live out our lives.  I know this might ruffle feathers if more than half a dozen people read this blog, but I am sure it will remain fairly quiet. Lol. 

If the Evangelical Church in America and elsewhere in the world were to stop worrying about their sound systems, their stained glass windows, their carpet colors, their new baubles, and used that money and energy, which God gave them in the first place in missions to feed the orphan and widow then perhaps the problems in the world would improve and souls would be saved as well as lives.  People would not see pretentiousness of the churches but would see Jesus being fleshed out.

I taught this weekend on spiritual gifts and asked the group what the USA’s spiritual gift as a country was.  They unanimously said giving.  SO what am I complaining about?  It is obvious to others that the Church in America is giving so what else do I mean?  I mean another gift of the Holy Spirit called Service and Helps. 

We don’t mind giving money (although very few of us give sacrificially) but we are extremely jealous of our time, especially if it is also connected to our money.   We either like to give some time, or money but rarely both at the same time.  What these people need is more than just money, more than just time.  They need investments of both into their lives.  They need discipleship and business teaching.  They don’t need someone telling them they are doing things wrong, they need someone teaching them that sometimes there are other ways that may be more efficient.  As many things as I have taught here, I have learned many more.  Things I knew how to before I came, I have found different ways to accomplish since coming.  But I have found ways to invest in the lives of others and have allowed them to invest in mine. 

If Politicians could grasp this, their only arguments would be about the names to put on street signs and how big a raise to give the military and the Church would take care of the rest.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Sometimes the "Better Way" is Not Better, Just Different

We always assume first, that we as American Christians know more about pretty much everything than the rest of the world and second we assume that people in "underdeveloped" nations are in nations that are "underdeveloped" because they don’t know any other way to do things.  Don’t get me wrong, American arrogance and intelligence is amazing and has made for many innovations and has created a bounty of wealth and prosperity for our country…BUT, we don’t know everything and our way is not only not the only way, in many cases our way is not better, just different.

While here in Kitale, I have found that people (most who don’t know us and many who do) think Americans are lazy and unable to do for themselves.  Oh, they know we have money to get someone to do for us, or at least they know we have more than they do.  However, they think we have no abilities for labor anymore.  This has been the case several times when I have worked here on the property, or even in town when I carry something heavy to the car.  They shake their heads and smile and they feel a connection that says “maybe we are not so different from one another”.

I was told by a very good friend we know here that I was a hard worker and he had not seen that before from an American much less a missionary.  I asked what he meant and he told me that he did not think Americans knew how to use a shovel or hoe or a machete or other hand tools.  I told him we do, but we have used machines to do so much, that we like the easy way better.  He understood that but it confused him on why we would spend so much money to do something God had already equipped us for by hand.  I understood his point but also understood that he was using a broken bottle to shave and shape a handle for an axe I purchased instead of sandpaper and a router.  In Kenya you purchase handles separate from your tools so none of them fit until you shape them…they can, by the way, shape them faster with a machete and broken glass that the time it would take us to set up the machines to do it...if you could get the machines here, which you can't.

I watched some men begin a harvest of corn yesterday on about an acre and a half.  They showed up on three bicycles, about 40 large flour sacks and a couple of machetes.  They asked how we harvest in America and I said for large fields, we have machines to drive through and harvest, but for smaller fields we go and pick by hand.  They shook their heads and said what about the work you could give to people?  I told him most Americans would not want to do that type of work if a machine could do it quicker.  They said they quickness was not an issue, they had plenty of time but not plenty of money so they would stick to the old ways. 

It will take them three days to finish the harvest.  Day one the cut all the stalks down (normally the stack it too but they waited late for this harvest) day two they go through and pick all of the ears and place them in bags (the large flour bags) and carry all of that away on the Bicycles they brought…yes on the bicycles.  Day three, they come back and take all of the remaining stalks and anything they might use and clean the field for the next planting (which Eric, our gardener and first resident of Seeds this ministry is supporting, is anxiously anticipating them to move out so he can begin).

Is it hard work, yes?  Is there an easier way, probably?  Thin thing is, Kenyans for the most part don’t have money so doing it different is not an option.  Sometimes the old way, even if it is harder, may be the best way.   At least it is better than complaining about wishing you could do it a different way. Sometimes it is doing what you can, with what you have, where you are and not complaining about it.  The majority of Kenyans don’t complain, they persevere and continue on.  Not floods, drought, nor even death slow them down for long.  They get up the next day and look for work that needs to be done and they do it.  Digging trenches, making charcoal, making bricks,  growing vegetables, even making gravel, all done by hand. Perhaps we all could stand to learn a thing or two about hard work from these wonderful people.

Next Blog Post,  “I have always been a conservative, is that changing?”  You might be interested in the answer

Friday, October 25, 2013

One Month in Country/Short term verses Full time missions

I have not blogged in a while, because my daughter Hannah has sort of taken the reins and has written so beautifully and eloquently that, to be honest, I shy away from it still! Lol

However after being in Kenya for a full month, I thought it fitting to give some of my thoughts.

A Few Things Learned this past 30 days

I am still in the “surreal” stage of our move but even that is fading.  I am able to navigate (somewhat) around Kitale town, they know me at the “Good Butchery” and the Chemist (pharmacy), and many of the baggers know me at the grocery market, (I tip for bags being carried).  However, I am still learning. 

I am learning fast on negotiating for better prices and find that the Kenyans enjoy a good negotiation (especially one in their favor).  I have learned that if you are not careful you can become jaded in your view of people.   I have realized even more now than ever, that sin is sin no matter where you are and without Jesus, we are all on the path to destruction.  Americans do not have a monopoly on sin, although we are very good at it as a whole.  Governments are corrupt everywhere but some are more open about it.

I know that God has prepared me my whole life for this moment in time and has equipped me physically, mentally, and spiritually for this trek.  However, the emotional equipping for me and for the rest of the family is a work in progress.  It is still really hard.

Missions: Short-term vs Long-Term mission trips

Through the years, I have heard many differing opinions about short-term mission trips verses long-term (full time) missionaries.  The arguments stem about money spent on short trips could be put to better use supporting full time missionaries, or the cost of a short trip is not justified but the fruit produced etc.  I say “hog-wash”!  I have seen many come to Christ through short termers when God brought them there at just the right moment in time!

So Short term verses Full time missions?  After being on both sides of the coin, I think both are valuable and needed and if God is calling you to one or the other, He will take care of the expenses….He invented money!

If it weren’t for a short trip in August 2012, I would not be here today.  God was preparing me and Robin long before we knew we would be in Africa, but it took that trip for God to finally say, “Look, who will I send here?” “Us Lord” was our reply.

We are all called to “go”, that means we are all called to missions: in the next country, next state, or the house next door. 

I would encourage everyone to find a mission trip and see what passion God stirs up in you!

We have even had some suggest that what we are doing is not mission work.  I say, “Hogwash again!”  My job is not to try and convince people that we are doing God’s work, nor is my job to look at what others are doing and decide if it is God ordained. My job is to be obedient in what He has called me to do.  That is:  Love Him above all else, Be obedient, Love my family, Preach His word, love my neighbor and help the orphan and widow.

Here in Kitale there is a loving group of missionaries that do everything from teaching and preaching to caring for some of the most beautiful babies who have had some of the toughest obstacles thrown at them.  They would love for someone to come for a few weeks and love on some babies.  It lets those children know they are loved and lets the missionaries remember they are not alone.

And if you do come….stay with us!