Me with my lovely wife, Kathy:

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas! But what does it mean?

My wife was up early doing some baking. I can see the lights from our Christmas tree reflected on the computer screen. In a little while I'll go over to church and get things ready for our candlelight service that takes place tonight. I figure it will be pretty close to midnight when my older son and his family arrive here. It will be good to spend a few days with them. Monday, Kathy, my mom, and I will travel to Texas to see my other son & his family. It will be our first visit to their new home.
It is very much Christmas at the Merrell household.

Let me not take anything for granted.

Christmas is significant because it reminds us of an incredible & essential Divine act. In brief:

  • This world--that would be all of us--have a serious problem. God said don't and we did. He said do and we didn't. In terms that the average child can understand, that is what sin is. There is a whole lot of Theology to be explored here, but here it simply:
    Do you always do what you know you should, and refrain from doing what you know you shouldn't? If you give the answer I think you will then you agree with God's word. All of us have sinned, Romans 3:23.
  • Sin has consequences. Romans 6:23 points out that the result of sin is death. That is death in it's fullest sense--Hell.
  • Here is where it gets to Christmas. God always had a plan. The plan involved God the Son coming to earth to die as the substitute for us. The Babe in the manger is visible beginning of that process. The shadow of the cross falls across the manger.
  • Because Jesus grew up and died on the cross in our place and then came forth from the grave in victory over death, He is able to offer us new life in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:17 & 21, John 3:16, Romans 5:6-8, Romans 10:9)
  • Here is the greatest Christmas gift. Have you accepted it as your own?

Merry Christmas!

Enjoy friends and family. But more than all else, trust the Lord of Christmas as your Savior.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Can those who deny the heart of the Evangel be called Evangelicals?

I just read a post on Al Mohler's blog. On it he makes reference to a Pew survey on religion and a subsequent article in US News and World Report. The quote below gives the disturbing gist of the article.

"an overall majority (54%) of people who identified with a religion and who said they attend church weekly also said many religions can lead to eternal life. This majority included 37% of white evangelicals, 75% of mainline Protestants and 85% of non-Hispanic white Catholics.
This survey cannot easily be dismissed. The specificity of the responses and the quality of the research sample indicate that we face a serious decline in confidence in the Gospel. When 34 % of white evangelicals reject the truth that Jesus is the only Savior, we are witnessing a virtual collapse of evangelical theology." (Dec. 18)

Unfortunately, I am not surprised by the conclusion of this article. It has been my observation for some time that the bulk of so called "Bible believers" live lifes that are shaped much more by the views of respectable society than by the clear teachings of the Bible. I fear that this is one reason that Evangelicals have become so politically active. We want to create a society where we can fit in. We don't want to have to stand out. I'm not advocating a move to Evangelical monasiticism, but I am challenging the motives and focus of some of my brethren. Rather than being willing to stand for the scandal of the cross, are we trying to create a world in which the cross is less scandalous?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

One of the characters of Christmas shows us the way two millennia later:

I was thinking about Joseph, Jesus Christ's step-father (so to speak), this morning. I'm often impressed with how little press Joseph gets at Christmas time. The average Christmas celebrator knows more about the little drummer boy than Mary's husband, Joseph. Granted the Biblical material about the man is sparce, but, still, little is done to mine what is there.

I'll get back to Joseph in a moment.

Have you noticed that in our world it seems that Christian people congregate on the extremes? One example--matters related to moral purity: In the last week I heard about a local pastor who spoke about unmarried, cohabitating couples as bringing shame to the church; they just shouldn't attend. Granted the report was a step or two removed from first-hand information, but I have been around long enough to know that the sentiment is too common. I know of other pastors who imply by their actions that there is no difference between those who live together sans-matrimony and those who wait for the wedding.
It seems that we congregate on the extremes. Sorting out that difficult middle position is tough. I'm not saying that the middle is always right, but my experience and observations lead me to believe that more often than not the extremes miss the mark.

Joseph was a guy who sought to honor realties that were in tension. He is called a righteous man (Matthew 1:19). Yet his actions show that he was also a compassionate man. When Joseph first wrestled with the news that his betrothed, Mary, was pregnant he had not heard anything of the divine miracle that had resulted in the virgin-conception. He was committed to do what was right, and he was likewise motivated to do that which was kind--or at least that which would be the least harsh.
He allowed the tension that resulted from the pull of these two competing interests to lead him to a righteous plan that was tempered by kindness and a kind plan that did not violate God's standard of purity.
When I look at the Joseph figure in the creche I am reminded of this balance, and the price that this righteous man paid to achieve it.
It is not the main story that is portrayed in the manger-scene, but it is a side-plot worth looking into.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

An interesting interview:

I just listened to the NPR, Fresh Aire interview with Frank Schaeffer. I still remember when he was "Franky," and breathed fire. Anyhow, the program is worth a listen.
Maybe the best way I can describe the conversation is, though I disagree with much I heard, Schaeffer's comments are worthwhile for us conservative evangelicals to think about.
It made me think.
I may get Schaeffer's book.
You can listen to the interview at

Monday, December 8, 2008

Government Bailouts, GM, Ford, Chrysler, the Church:

It is hard to have a cup of coffee without getting into a conversation about the auto-bailout. I've owned cars from all of the "big-three." I grew up on wages my dad earned at a steel mill, and one of my uncles used to make tires in Akron. For a summer I worked for a tiny auto-parts company. The little town where I live, now, has car-connections. Those evaporative-control canisters under the hood of modern autos are filled with carbon from a local chemical plant, and several times a week I drive by a complex of empty buildings where auto parts used to be made. The loss of those jobs still hurts.
I just looked at a map that shows the number of auto-manufacturing related jobs in the various states ( From the 242 jobs in District of Columbia (The sites says 20 workers are involved in auto parts and another score in sales. Are the other 202 lobbyists?) to the nearly quarter-million auto-workers in Michigan, there are people in all 51 units that make up these United States who earn a living from cars. CNN/Fortune Magazine says that over 2 million jobs are involved. (See the above link.) A coalition of auto-related workers, calling itself the "Engine of Democracy," says that 6 million jobs are at stake. ( Howard Merrell says there are a lot. You can quote me. Not all of those jobs are related to GM, Ford or Chrysler, but they are the "Big-Three," so many, perhaps most are.
I have heard no one who maintains that if one, two, or all three of these gi-hugic companies goes belly-up that the short-term consequences will be anything less than devastating. The argument has to do with after that. Is allowing the cruel force of the market to do its work a bitter pill we have to swallow in order to move toward a cure, or are the consequences so dire that allowing the Big-Three to crash would do irreparable damage?
The debate goes on. Since I'm not in congress I don't have to make up my mind. I'm praying for great wisdom from a group of people who don't impress me as being very Solomonic.

What really troubles me this morning, though, is that the car-companies are not the only ones looking for a government handout. The church, the body of Christ, an entity far bigger and more important than the auto-industry, far too often acts as if we are dependent on the government for our existence. Political action on the part of Christians is appropriate--even desirable. When government steps out of line morally or ethically, the voice of the church should be heard--loud, clear, and unequivocal. I'm not encouraging a withdrawal from political action. What I am concerned about is the impression that is often given by Christian leaders that unless the government does this or that all is lost. Fellow Christian leaders our model is not the 3 auto execs, chastened like school-boys, car-pooling to Washington in their politically-correct hybrids, meekly explaining that unless you guys help us out we will surely fail. No, think John the Baptist, here. He expected nothing from Herod, confronted him for his sin, and knew that the cause of God would go on whatever that corrupt leader did. Or think of those early Christians who, following the example of the Apostles, stood for the Lord even to death. They expected nothing from the government in the way of help. They certainly received none. They changed the world.
If we are going to effectively speak truth to power, our words must come from a knowledge that we have a power greater than, longer lasting than, more richly supplied than, and better focused than that of the government. The kingdom of God does not depend on the vote of the electorate or Congress, the decisions of the Supreme Court, or the next speech of the President. We look to the omnipotence of God for our resources. That is not diminished.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

It's the kind of world we live in, but the kind of God we serve demands (in a logical sense) Thanksgiving:

Kathy, my mother and I traveled to Charlotte NC yesterday to spend Thanksgiving with Kathy's sister, her family, and their mom, who lives with here with Dawn & Jim. One of Kathy's brothers had also flown in. We were, and still are, looking forward to the time together.
Last night my mother-in-law fell and broke her hip.
After a very late night, I was awakened earlier than the rest of the house by a call from Kathy's other brother. So, I and a cup of coffee are doing a little computering.

Thanksgiving always involves an act of the will. That is made abundantly clear in the little OT book of Habakkuk. If things aren't going as well as you like for you, I encourage you to make it your Thanksgiving reading. I imagine that our Pilgrim Forefathers had to adopt that "determined thanks" stance that I see in the prophet.
I will give thanks.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Preachers Won!

OK, in case you don't know, I'm a pastor, what some old-timers call a "preacher." In fact some folk address me as "Preacher Merrell." So, I can hardly plead impartiality on this matter. Having established my place behind the pulpit--figuratively, since we haven't used our pulpit for several years now, I'll proceed.

For some time now the point has been made that people won't listen to preaching anymore. We have to use PowerPoint and videos, we need to put on carefully scripted shows, and never quote Charles Spurgeon or do anything else "preacherly." People who have been making this point overlook some well-known and very popular preachers. Even listening through my keyhole, I am aware of a number. Many of them are best known through radio, so obviously the video element is not a factor in their effectiveness.
  • Chuck Swindoll keeps on telling stories, enthusiastically laughing at his own jokes and highlighting the intense practicality of the Word of God.
  • Granted it appears that Charles Stanley has bought some hair, but he is still counting off 3 of this, 5 of that, and 7 of the other thing on his long slim fingers.
  • John MacArthur, and James McDonald seem to just talk about the Bible.
  • Even from the grave Oliver Greene and J. Vernon McGee continue to have a following. I think they died before Powerpoint was invented.

Another preacher, Allistair Begg, has helped me clarify thinking on this. Part of the reason he has impressed me comes from the fact that he has come to some of the same conclusions I have, only he said it better. (Don't you love it when someone agrees with you?) You'll have to do the research if you want to find out more (and if anyone wants to send me a link to any of this, I'll be glad to post it.) since the input Preacher Begg has had in my life has been through borrowed Cd's and a couple of Pastor's Conferences I have attended at Parkside Church. Begg acknowledges that many critics claim that people won't listen to preaching anymore. In part he--and I--agree with that conclusion, but not for the reasons that are usually given. Since I don't have Begg's words in front of me, I don't want to take a chance on misrepresenting him. So the following points are mine. These opinions have been shaped by the Scottish preacher's words, though.

People don't listen to preaching because:

  • Much of it isn't worth listening to. I notice this in particular when I go to funerals. Here preachers have the opportunity to talk to the people that they wish they could talk to on Sunday. If what they do at the funeral-chapel is typical of what they do at church it is easy to understand why people don't listen.
  • Much of our preaching lacks authority. Messages that are like presentations of feel-good magazine articles garnished with scripture offer little of interest to people in need. Oprah and Dr. Phil have a bigger budget than we do. If we try to play in their court we'll lose. If we preach God's word, we win, because they don't.
  • We seek to preach what people want to hear, or what they think they need to hear. Pastor Begg said something to the effect, "We cannot preach what people want, because no one is demanding the gospel."
  • This one is mostly mine. We act as if all the truth of God's word can be mastered with little thought or effort. Proverbs talks about digging for treasure. Paul told Timothy to be diligent in his approach to the Word of God, 2 Timothy 2:15. I haven't read the book yet, but I understand that Bill Hybells has something to say on this matter.

In other words much of the lack of interest in preaching can be attributed to the sorriness of the preaching being offered up.

I've been thinking these thoughts for several years now. The recent election provided further confirmation that the day of preaching is not past.

  • It is not coincidental that the best speaker won the presidential race.
  • Then there was the highlight of the campaign. Sarah Palin's fresh, frank, folksy, effective rhetoric energized the race.
  • Mike Huckabee did more with less, and landed himself a job on Fox News to boot, on the basis of his ability to speak clearly and persuasively. In case you didn't know, or forgot, Mike Huckabee is Rev. Huckabee, a former Southern Baptist pastor.
  • Huckabee went to Seminary with Rick Warren. The civil forum at Saddleback clearly showed that a preacher who actually believes something could speak sensibly, persuasively, and reach across barriers.
  • In my state we elected a new Senator. No doubt Mark Warner (No relation to John Warner, whom he is replacing) was helped by the Democratic tidal-wave, but Governor Warner is also a much more effective speaker than Governor Gilmore, whom he not only beat, but buried.

The preacher--the good ones at least won.

For those of us who seek to persuade people, It's Something to Think About.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Salute to our Veterans and Armed Forces currently serving:

On Friday I'll have the privilege of speaking to a group of High-Schoolers at a Veteran's Day assembly. (Friday is the day that works in their schedule.) Last year when I was asked speak I thought it was strange, since I have never been in the military. This year I was even more surprised when I was asked to come back.

It is also the Thanksgiving season. The two days of recognition overlap. I am thankful for my country and for those who defend it.

Friday, I plan to talk about 3 people.

Sam Falanru (I probably don't have his name spelled right) is a man I met on Guam. He and I served together on the board of Pacific Islands Bible College. Sam is from the Island of Yap. He was a boy during World War II when our planes were bombing his Island. He told me how the air-raid sirens would go off at night and he and his family would have to find their home-made bomb shelter in the dark. "We couldn't even light a candle or a match." The shelter consisted of a hole in the ground covered over with coconut logs, then that covered with dirt. He said one time during a time of rain, he remembered standing in the shelter in the dark with water up to his chest, hearing the bombs going off and seeing the flashes of light from the explosions.

You would think that after enduring such an ordeal that Sam would be anti-American, but he isn't. Most of the men on Yap had been rounded up and taken to other Islands by the Japanese. They were used, essentially as slave labor to build airstrips and such. Like many people in the world, Sam regarded the US forces as liberators. A friend of mine served on a battleship in that area of the Pacific. Another friend who just died, flew for the Army Air-Corps in the Pacific. A gentleman who was a charter member of the church where I serve carried a ringing in his ears to the grave; the ringing came from firing the big-guns as our troops fought Island to Island for victory.

I met Saul at Dachau in Germany. A friend of mine says about Dachau and Auschwitz, that everyone should have to go there once, and only once. I totally understand. I was standing in one of the chapels built on the ground of this former concentration camp, when an older gentleman said, "I was here."

Sam grew up a Jew in Czhekoslovakia. He and his family were put in Dachau. Sam was the only survivor. He told me that as far as he knew he had put his own father's body in the oven. He said that he came back there, because it allowed him to feel close to his family. He had spent most of his adult life in America, the land that had been willing to shed its blood to stop the evil that imprisoned and killed his people. In America he made a good living and raised a family.

My dad and his two uncles were part of the war that set Saul, and millions like him free.

The third person I'll mention is a lady I never met. Her image though is imprinted on my mind.

She was one of the Afghans who for the first time in the history of their land went to the polls and voted. To cut down on the possibility of people voting more than once, each voter signified that they had cast their ballot by dipping their finger in indelible ink. It became not only a security measure, but a point of pride.

A friend of mine was serving with the US Army during that election. He recognized the significance of all those indigo fingers and so obtained one of those ballots to bring home and frame and give to his little girl so that she would know that her dad was involve in something that was worth doing--something that made a difference for people.
Unfortunately a lot of bad things are said about our Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Air-Force personnel. I'm glad that I've been able to meet some people around the world who bear witness to the good things these men and women have and are doing.
On this Veteran's Day I thank those who have served, and are serving.
Let's be sure to pray for those in harm's way.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Getting past Election Day:

Please note that I'm writing this before the winners of Tuesday's Elections are announced. Most of you will read this afterward. I'm writing it with that in mind.

Especially, on the presidential level, this has been a very emotional campaign. As I am doing a final edit of this piece there is a spot on TV about parents with adult children who are voting the opposite of their parents. One dad said he could hardly talk to his daughter. Find a way to get over it! Unless we deal with the emotion properly, it could get in the way of our moving on to the business at hand. And it is clear there is business at hand.

It is clear that this election will make history. We will have elected either the first African-American President, or the first female Vice-President. This has been the most expensive Presidential race in history, and some commentators are predicting a record vote. It seems that the campaign has lasted so long that some of babies the candidates kissed at the beginning of their run were old enough to vote for them by the end. By Tuesday evening nearly half the nation will be disappointed--some bitter. With all there is do before us, we had better get over it.

  • For those of us who know the Lord, the bond that we share in Christ is more important than the political divisions that come between us. If our political enthusiasm led us to actions that offended others, we ought to make that right.

  • We need to understand that not all Republicans are cold-hearted war-mongers, nor are all Democrats devoid of concern for the life of the unborn. Politics are complicated. Some of my friends make decisions that I don't understand. It is appropriate for us to have spirited discussions about the issues (in the right context), but it is not acceptable for me to "demonize" others or to assign motives to them that may not be theirs. Political campaigns lend themselves to caricatures--one dimensional cartoons--real life is populated by very complex individuals.

  • No doubt in the months to come a new version of an old bumper sticker will proliferate, "Don't Blame Me, I Didn't Vote for ________." It's amusing the first 10 times you see it--a little--OK, very little--but the attitude it expresses is pretty non-productive.

  • Don't gloat, either--that is if your side won. That is perhaps even less productive than the whining about losing. Sooner or later, politically or otherwise, you are going to need their help.

  • We must be committed to get along with those we ought to get along with. I imagine that Simon the Zealot and Matthew the former tax collector had some interesting discussions.

God is still on the throne. This will get too long if I explore God's sovereignty, so you work on it on your own. Bottom line: If my guy won it won't bring in the Kingdom of God. If the other guy won that doesn't mark the beginning of the Great Tribulation.

Who ever our new President-elect is, and the other newly elected candidates, we need to pray for them, and those who continue in office. 1 Timothy 2
Transitions are critical times. Pray.

From my perspective as a pastor, having heard the discussion that led up to the election, it is clear to me that there is a great need for the people of God to clarify our thinking. What really matters?
Gene Veith, writing on his blog, included part of an article by an Australian journalist that included this quote, "This election marks the triumph of celebrity as the essential organising principle of US politics." (You can find more on Veith's blog, You'll need to scroll down a ways.
This is not a criticism of just the other side. This campaign has impressed me with how thin the thinking has been. Some of the ads and speeches have contained outright lies. The implication is, "Go ahead and lie to them. If it is what they want to hear, they'll like it, and many who don't like it won't be smart enough to figure it out." The majority of the campaign was based on half-truths and stuff that doesn't matter. From Grecian columns to expensive wardrobes to appearances on Saturday Night Live everything was about looking good.
People who don't know what they believe can be easily led astray. Lot's of Christians don't have a clue.
  • Are there wars worth fighting, even if people die in them?
  • When does human life begin? Is all human life worthy of protection?
  • What is the purpose of government? What do we have a right to expect from our government? Concerning what do we have a right to expect government to leave us alone?
  • What does the Bible tell us about human nature that needs to be considered when setting up an effective government?
We have been asked to make decisions related to secondary issues, without having a clear idea of what we think/believe about more fundamental issues. How, for instance can you make policy decisions related to abortion and euthanasia if you have not answered the basic questions about human life: Is it special? To whom does it belong? When does it begin? When does it end? What one believes about the basic goodness or badness of humanity has impact on decisions related to war, education, and more. People are making world-changing choices about the latter without a clue--or worse, the wrong conclusion--about the former. The same can be said about many of the other issues before us. Many of God's people don't have a Biblical worldview. Rather their view of reality is primarily formed by the forces in the world itself. In such a climate decisions tend to be made on the basis of popularity, emotion, trendiness, special interest--as in mine--or based on labels that are largely meaningless.
A while back I asked one of our elected officials to tell me where the line is that he would not step over in relation to one of the moral issues of our day. In essence he said he didn't know. Yet that didn't stop him from making decisions on that issue. My friend-the-politician could get the answers if he wanted to. I have to assume that he prefers to be ignorant--or to profess ignorance--because it gives him/her greater flexibility. Some of us are doing the same in relation to our vote. One of our Presidential candidates said when asked when human life begins that to answer that question is above his pay-grade. The person who is going to lead the nation in protecting life ought to have an answer to that question. The other candidate professes to believe that life begins at conception, yet is not willing to follow through with the consistent, though hard, conclusion that therefore all human life is worthy of protection. (Or make a cogent argument as to why those particular humans should not be protected) Why is that we laughed at the candidates on Saturday Night Live, but we did not ridicule such inadequate answers? Could it be that we don't know either, that we are more comfortable being ignorant, that we are not willing to follow through on what we do know?
Before the personality and emotion of the next election kicks in dig in and get some answers.
I figure that some of you have some thoughts on this matter. If your comments show promise of leading to reconciliation, I'll be glad to post them for others to read.

To my friends whose candidates won, congratulations.
To the rest--well, there is next time.

PS. As I was preparing this post, I heard that Barak Obama's grandmother just died. Pray for the family. It kind of puts things in perspective on a number of levels.

2 very articulate young ladies:

I know it isn't real spiritual, and I know I have to consider other factors, but one of the ways I judge the health of our church is whether or not I have fun. Yesterday was a lot of fun. I think if you were with us at Covington Bible you agree.
Our musicians did a great job leading us in, and sharing, music.
At our 11:00 service we began with a Baptismal service. I figure that baptism ought to focus on the one declaring her or his faith, so we have the person being baptized share their testimony. Yesterday the 2 young ladies, good friends of one another, and members of the Jr. Hi. Sunday School Class, where I get to hang out, Kayla Douglas and Makayla May did a wonderfu job in sharing their story of faith. I wish that we had video of our services online (I'm looking for someone willing to do that) so you could easily see and hear these young ladies' testimonies. You can get a DVD if you want, write me and I'll pass it on to the crew that handles that.
Way to go M&K!
As an into to the message, "What Have We Done With Christmas?" we used a spoof of the 12 Days of Christmas. You can see it here,
The little movie was made even more amusing by the fact that our son's new in-laws were guests in our home over the weekend. They are definitely not like the ones in the video.
Anyhow, I had a good time.
From those who cleaned our building, to ushers, to musicians, to K&M, to all who came, thanks.

I mentioned that the parents of our daughter-in-law were weekend visitors. Not only did we enjoy getting to know Wanda and Steve better, we enjoyed showing off our lovely part of the world to them. I am blessed to live in such a lovely part of God's creation.

I'm praying for the election tomorrow. My hope is in the Lord!

live 4 Jesus.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Election Day:

It is always difficult for me when election time comes.
I believe that the church should be the church. I do not want to become aligned with any one political party or candidate.
However there are significant questions and issues that are at stake.
This video, click the link below, does a good job of raising the issues.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Why did I wait so long?

Right now I'm waiting for my younger son to drop by. He and I are going to go for a bike ride. It is one of those, "Why didn't I earlier?" moments.
He and his family were forced out of Central Asia earlier this year--bureaucratic/visa related--so he has been here in Covington since June. "Let's get together & ride." "We really need to do that." Now he is leaving tomorrow for a new ministry in Austin Texas, and this is the first day we are riding.
My favorite toy--my boat has been messed up all summer. I just took it to the shop 2 weeks ago and got it fixed. In spite of it being fall it's been on the water a couple of times since then. My Texas-bound son and his family love boating. Lord willing we'll go out this afternoon. Again, "Why did I wait so long?"
Yesterday the Covington Bible Church honored us for 35 years of ministry here. It was a lovely day. My son, Chris, and two guys that I have been privileged to mentor, spoke yesterday morning. I felt very loved and honored, by all the attention, gifts, cards, and kind words. Still I confess that there is some backward looking.
I saw the mention of a book this morning--a classic more than 100 years old. As I have in the past, I made a mental note. "I need to read that." "Why have I waited so long?"
Part of the answer has to do with life. James Dobson once said (I'm sure he isn't the only one, but he is the one I heard.) "This life is just one thing after another." In my community, in my church, in my family, and in my life that has certainly been the case. An old joke talks about having my people contact your people. Well, for most of my life my people have consisted of me.
I have remodeled--built part of it from the ground up--the house where I, my wife, and my mom lives. I have also lived in this house for 35 years. I entered into a real-estate retirement project 10 years ago, where I was able to invest labor instead of money. I had hoped to be out of it by now, but you know about the real-estate market, and for business property in a declining community that is even more-so. As I type, there is a window sitting next to me. I plan to install it as a gift to my lovely wife. I am finishing up--I hope--a remodel of my study over at church. It is different than most such projects in that the materials I started with is mostly rough-sawn cherry lumber. I ran it through the planer, cut it, joined it, shaped it, and put it together. I have some buddies who have "remodeled" their offices. If their hands got dirty it was only from the ink from the magazines they looked through so they could show somebody else what they wanted. By the way, the church building where my study is, was built by volunteer labor, including mine
I have embraced and walked with my older son as his marriage spiraled down and he divorced and fought for his kids. One episode in that saga is the hardest thing I ever did in my life. By God's grace all four children are with him. I rejoiced with him through God's gracious provision of a Godly wife. He celebratd his second anniversary yesterday--two-weeks. : )
I agonized with my younger son as he valiantly dealt with the bureaucracy to try to continue his ministry, that was still in embryonic form, in Central Asia. I have recently rejoiced with him in the obvious leading of God to his new place of service. Though half-way across the country is a lot different than half-way around the world, I will miss him and his family.
My hip and wrist are screwed together, as a result of two accidents.
So, I don't want you to think that my questioning look over my shoulder is a result of not having been busy.
So, in case there are some younger pastors reading this, what would I have done differently?
  • I would have read more.
  • I would have begun to travel the world, plugging into missions, earlier.
  • I would have done less. Let me tell you what I mean. Another small church pastor friend of mine once purposely didn't change a light-bulb for something like 6 months. If I remember right he finally lost the battle. I.E. he wanted to make the point that other folk should be doing that kind of thing. They shouldn't expext the pastor to do all that. There is a dynamic that goes on here. In a small church there is often only one person who is at the building on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, etc. I fear that over the years I have trained some people wrongly.
  • I would play more, and play more purposefully. Actually, I don't think I have done too badly at this.. I used to jog, snow-ski, hunt, fish, and play at basketball. I still ride bike and enjoy water-sports and wood-working. I would just do that stuff with more abandon. I would have more pages in my mental scrap-book.

There are also things that I definitely don't regret.
I don't regret a moment of the time invested in my family.
No misgivings about remaining here for all of my career.
Likewise I am glad that I chose a few years ago to take a more active part in missions.

My wife remains the joy of my life.


I may write some more later.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Just got back from the wedding:

I'm home bach-ing it for about a week. Kathy stayed in PA to baby-sit the grandkids while Tanisha and Chad are on their honeymoon.

My younger son, Chris (that's him, Nancy, Silas & Kira in the picture), asked me several times if it was easier or harder to be a part of the wedding, rather than the one conducting it.

Both, but mostly, I just enjoyed the weekend. I think Christopher, my grandson, did as well

As I think the pictures communicate it was an experience of God's grace.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

I find it amazing both that news travels so fast in our inter-connected world, and that news can remain relatively hidden for so long. I was surprised in the later way concerning the intense persecution of Christians in India.
Chuck Colson has a commentary on Hindu fanatics uprising against Christians in Orissa India,, and the Southern Baptist News Service has a report,

We Westerners ae not immune to this kind of sectarian violence. It can begin with just regular folk sticking up for their rights, forgetting the impact their action may have on others. I recently wrote about just such an incident that took place in the US.

Clearly the United States has a problem with immigration. We dare not forget, however, that the "problem" consists of men, women, and children--many of whom only want what we have. I have been privileged to visit some other nations of the world, and I can tell you that for many a job in the US and the level of prosperity it brings is a dream they long for. Some desire it so much that they are prepared to break the law, and risk their lives to bring it to reality.Politicians jockey for position to appear as the candidate who will solve the problem. Unfortunately, it seems that many pols are more interested in voter-approval ratings than in actual solutions.At a recent raid at a plant in Mississippi 600 illegal immigrant employees were arrested. As they were being led away, dozens of other workers lined up to clap and cheer. Having grown up in the home of a blue-collar worker I understand the sentiment, and I also feel a need to rebuke it. To want the law to be enforced is one thing, to rejoice at the calamity of others who are trying to achieve the dream that many of us take for granted is another.Justice? Yes, but tempered with compassion.
It's Something to Think About.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The principles in God's word give freedom:

I'm sorry that it has taken me longer than expected to get back to this.

If you remember I have been talking about living with integrity based on the standards we glean from the Bible..

An unfortunate syndrome that I observe in some people my age is the "Yeah, but . . ." response to the curves that life seems to throw us. (I say people my age, because by the time one gets up around the half-century mark she/he has accumulated enough experience, baggage, dependents, and complications that life becomes exceedingly complicated. Fleshed out the Yeah-but response goes something like, "Yes, I know that is what the Bible teaches, but (here the speaker fills in the complicated real life situation) so I am going to do. . . ."

A wise friend of mine once told me that he had never been so sure of things as he was when he had just graduated from seminary.

At twenty-five the path through a difficult ethical dilemma was perfectly clear. Over the years real-life situations that I observe and experience are like brush and tall grass growing in and next to the path. When, like me, one starts receiving the AARP magazine, some of those saplings have become huge trees, and the path can be all but obscured.
  • Preachers kids, even those of preachers who take a hard-core position on divorce, have marriages that end in court.

  • It is interesting to see pastors who maintained a no-hair-on-the-collar standard hanging out with grandsons with 2 heads of hair.

  • Sometimes guitars, or even worse drums, represent not only a change in worship style for a church, but the "eating of words" for the older preacher.

You get the idea. You can go on with other examples.

Let me make a couple of observations--I'm still working on this, so I would appreciate your input--then I'll share an experience of my own.

  1. We ought to be cautious about making categorical, hard-and-fast, declarations about life issues that we have not yet experienced. Note, I didn't say that we shouldn't. Sometimes we must, &/or should. I said be careful.

  2. When we do make pronouncements as described above, we need to be absolutely sure that they are firmly anchored in scripture. I spoke on child-rearing before I had children. I was careful simply teach what the Bible says. Come to think of it, I still try to do that. Somebody famous said something like, "I used to have 5 theories on child-rearing. Now I have children and no theories."

  3. When experiences in life seem to conflict with what we conclude the Bible teaches.
  • We need to know that the Bible always trumps experience.
  • We need to abide by the Bible's teaching even if it causes pain.
  • It is appropriate to allow my experience, or that observed in others, to cause me to re-evaluate my conclusions. The Bible is inerrant. My exegesis and teaching are frequently in error.
  • God's word was not given for a fictional ideal world, but for the real world in which we live.
    (I hope I am wrong, but I fear that some in my position, in essence, take the position that "My mind is made up. Don't confuse me with real life evidence that appears to contradict what I have already decided." Here is an area where the postmodern/emergent types are right. We Fundamentalist or conservative Evangelicals have frequently been too sure.)

4. When we conclude that we were wrong in the past we need to admit it in the present.

My recent experience:

A number of years ago I struggled through the issues of divorce and remarriage.
I grew up spiritually in an environment that basically said there was no such thing as a Biblical divorce. In that day the churches and institutions that made up the constituency of "my kind" were mostly made up of a population that did not include the divorced. In society in general divorce was much less common, and in churches like the one where I grew up, the "D"-word was mostly absent. In a recent conversation a friend my age told me about a divorce that took place in the very traditional town of his youth. The man who divorced his wife had to leave the area because of the public shame his divorce brought him. There are some things we like about that. There are other aspects of that expression of public morality that are horribly toxic.

As a young pastor, I had to figure out what I believed & what I was going to teach. Part of my struggle stemmed from the fact that I was rejecting part of the teaching that my spiritual mentors had handed me. I won't go into details, but I concluded that the Bible made provision for 2 clear grounds for divorce. ( I still struggle in sorting out a third.) I saw that a Biblical divorce without the right to remarry is an animal that doesn't exist in the Bible's menagerie. It is clear to me that people who are divorced, even wrongly divorced, are not married, in the sight of God, or anywhere else. There is clearly an expression of grace in God's standard of the maintenance of marriage, and His graciousness can be seen as well in His provision for its dissolution. I could go on, but you get the idea. As was true with a great many other things I was taught, the gist of what was put before me was that adopting the most restrictive position was always the best decision. I reject that in general, and in particular in relation to this situation. As I say, all of this took place in my thinking decades ago.

Now the present:
Later this month, my son, a divorced man, who has spent the last several years pretty much single-handedly raising his 4 children, will marry a lovely young lady. One of the great honors of my life, is his invitation for me to stand with him as the "Best man." I put that in quotes, since my grandson will also stand with his dad, so I can't really be the best man. : )

On the wedding day, I will put on my tux--and other than regretting how much the rental is--I will stand with my son with great joy and clear conscience.

When you take the time to wrestle issues to the mat the result is a freedom and peace that can come no other way. Often we mistakenly look at Biblical ethics as nothing more than compiling a list of ways that Gods says "No!"

No. God also says "Yes," with no "buts."

I rejoice in that yes.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Some thoughts on the application of Theology:

At the end of my last post I told you that I would share some thoughts about keeping our Theology real--or words to that effect.

While I was thinking, Chuck Colson was writing. His thoughts about the media storm related to Sarah Palin and her family are well worth reading,

Mrs. Palin's nomination has put a strain on a number of us. Like life in general, her life--in particular as it relates to her being considered for VP--is complicated.
I'll not delve into all the complications, but will comment on one. Both in her life, and in regard to the unfortunate pregnancy of her daughter, the Governor of Alaska has made choices consistent with her worldview--dare I say "Theology." She has concluded that human life is precious, and that it begins at conception. Therefore she didn't abort Trig, though he is Down's Syndrome. In fact she regards him as a special gift. And her daughter is allowing the child conceived out of wedlock to live, grow, and be loved. Mr. and Mrs. Palin are providing support to their daughter in making this choice.
We don't get to say, "Yeah, but. . . ."

Perhaps my favorite message (that I have done) is based on Jesus encounter with the Pharisees in Luke 14. It is one of the Sabbath controversies. These guys had constructed a theological system that cost them nothing, but one that they wanted others--in particular this guy taken with dropsy--to pay for.
They all had oxen and children, so they had created loopholes to cover contingencies that would harm them, so that they would not be caused to suffer loss. But this guy . . . Let him come back tomorrow.

I'm not saying Mrs. Palin will make a good VP, nor am I saying she won't. That's not my purpose. I'm merely saying in this particular case she is to be commended for making real-life decisions in line with her worldview/theology. Sometimes doing right is hard.

Here is the other side:
If it is desirable to actually live life based on what we claim to believe, then it is important that we carefully craft our creed. I'm not promoting cafeteria religion, here. I am saying that we need to think about the implications of what we claim to believe, before we chisel it in stone. (If it is already engraved, and we see it is wrong we need to be willing to make some dust and get it right.
My creed could perhaps be stated in two points:
  1. I believe the Bible is the Word of God.
  2. Everything else flows from that.

If God's word says it, I don't get to veto it. However it is valid to follow through on my conclusions as to what the Bible says, and ask concerning the application of what I conclude the Bible teaches, "Is this action consistent with what I understand about God and His will in the rest of scripture?"

Right now, I find that some difficult choices I made a couple of decades ago are bringing peace to my heart in relation to some things that are going on now in my family.

Check back in a day or two.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Two Trips, both lovely:

During the summer the Covington Bible Church does what we call "Family Nights." For our last event church members Laurie and Jon Fitzgerald planned a lovely kayak, canoe trip on the Jackson River. (For you non-locals, the Jackson is the headwaters of the well-known James River. The Jackson and the Cowpasture [Yes, there is also a Bullpasture and even a Calfpasture--our ancestors had a sense of humor.] rivers come together about 15 miles from here and form the James.

The Jackson won't provide adrenaline junkies with a rush--unless you are my five-year-old grandson, who described the "rapids" as "little waterfalls." While the Jackson may lack white-water thrills, it has an abundance of peace, beauty and tranquility. Though the water is cold--the stream temperature is controlled by the release from Lake Moomaw, in order to maximize trout habitat--a number of folk managed to tip their craft. Mostly the capsizing were exuberance related, and not attributed to wild-water.
As you can see from the photo below, taken at the end of the trip, Kathy and I managed to stay dry. : )

Right after we got back from the Jackson, we packed up for a trip to PA. Our purpose on this trip was to surprise our soon-to-be daughter-in-law, Tanisha Lehman with a shower. (Tanisha, and Chad's youngest, Kendal are at the right.) Actually, we weren't the ones doing the shower, we were just part of the surprise. We managed to stay under the radar--she was suitably startled by the show of kindness from the ladies at her home church. Chad--the soon to be groom--my younger son, Chris, and my two grandsons put in an appearance at the beginning of the ladies' special time, then we went to Tanisha's parent's home, where the above mentioned plus her dad, grandpa, and uncle enjoyed a manly meal cooked on the grill, complete with a desert of Banana-pudding, my favorite, made by my granddaughter Carrington.
(On the left, a surprised Tanisha chats with future brother-in-law, Chris)

We arrived back safe and sound last night about midnight.
Stay-tuned. I have always believed that theology ought to have a place in real life. That is one thing I like about pastoring a small church. One won't be in a street-level ministry very long before he gets knocked out of his ivory tower. At this point mine is long abandoned and hidden a jungle of real-life vegetation.
My visit with my son, his four kids, and his soon-to-be wife, combined with this morning's news about Vice-Presidential candidate, Sarah Palin's pregnant seventeen-year-old daughter are helping to bring clarity to some thoughts that have been brewing in my mind about how an authentic understanding of what the Bible teaches needs to work in real-life. If it doesn't, dump it.
Check back in a day or two. For now, I thank God for two really great trips.

Friday, August 22, 2008

This & that:

I haven't put anything on here for a while, and have nothing profound today.
  • Kathy & I were able to take a trip with four of our grandkids. We had a great time, and I think the kids did, too.
  • I have this accumulation of projects. One is mostly Kathy's, a basement remodel, but it involves me in putting down ceramic tile, intalling a new door, and doing some sheet-rock work. It will involve moving a water-heater (Why do so many people call them hot-water-heaters? If the water is hot, why would you heat it?) PLUMBING : (, but I can put that off. I started remodeling my study a while back. I put the first coat of vanish on part of the cherry this morning. Lovely stuff. The wood I varnished this morning was some that my late Father-in-law had cut and had sawn. He was my pastor during the first part of my life. Normally I'm not sentimental, but it will be cool to be reminded of Pastor Marsceau . . .
  • It's the end of summer so, fall programs have to get going.
  • Below in the picture of "my guys" is Pink Davis. We are privileged to have a commissioning service for him and Selena this Sunday. They are headed to New Zealand.

I have put a couple of new Something to Think Abouts on the webpage--link on the right. If you are interested in subscribing there is a form there.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

My guys:

I mentioned a week or so ago that I had recently had lunch with "my guys. Here is a picture taken by a friend.

Starting from the Lower left is Daniel Cook. Daniel is an Appalachian Bible College grad. He married a lady who grew up in our church. He interned with me for a year. He is currently associate pastor at a church in Easton PA.

Next to him is Doug Williams. He came to CBC when he was in high school. Doug is an outstanding preacher, linguist, pastor, and missionary. He currently resides in Covington and is our Associate pastor/Missionary in Residence. In addition to his duties here at CBC, he is translating the Old Testament into
Awapit. He continues to write lessons that are taught to the Awa in Equador, and he takes periodic trips to minister. He is currently leading a team there. In about a year he and Dorcas plan to return to Northern Ecuador.

Pink Davis--yes that is his real name--served as intern and assistant at CBC for nearly 2 years. He is a graduate of Appalachian Bible College. On Aug. 24 we will commission he and Selena as missionaries to New Zealand.

On the bottom right is my son, C. He is a graduate of Cedarville University. He served for seven years as associate pastor in Kansas. He just finished an 18 month stint in Central Asia, seeking to establish a ministry leading to the founding of churches. He was forced to leave because of visa issues. He will continue in ministry.

Fred Stromberg served as intern, and covered for me after a major accident in 2001. He is an ABC grad. serving in Honduras.

It was a great lunch. The food didn't matter.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Some wisdom on making decisions:

One of the benefits of the cyber-world is it allows one to become friends with folk he would not otherwise meet. I have never met Pastor Charles Wood. I have benefited from his writing. He describes himself as, "Retired pastor and educator; current husband, father, grandfather, great grandfather,Bible teacher, writer and constrarian, now hidden away in Mish, Indiana."

He sends out his musings to an email list. If you want to be added to his mailing list send me a note and I'll forward it to him.

"Woodchuck" gave me permission to quote the following article:

DECISIONS, DECISIONS, DECISIONS: Many years ago (1981 to be precise), I read Garry Fiesen and Robin Maxon's definitive work, Decision Making and the Will of God. My attention had been drawn to it by a very negative review in Written by Bob Sumner in his Biblical Evangelist. At the time, I wasn't very impressed by Sumner and assumed that something he would treat so negatively must have some value to it (well, at least I'm being honest about the matter). The work was exhaustive (and somewhat exhausting to read - and is still available from, but it got me to thinking a great deal about some of the issues involved in seeking and finding the will of God. The results of some of my thinking will likely show up in my next post. It has long been my contention - and it still is - that much of what we need to know about the will of God is already revealed in the Word of God. Quite often our problem is not with discerning the will of God but in being willing to do the will of God. My over-simplified version would be: if the Bible says to do it or not do it, then either do it or don't do it. There is, however, that gray area where we have to make major decisions that are not specifically covered by the Word of God. I stand fairly well convinced that such decisions make up no more than about 15% of all the decisions we face, but that group can be very significant and also quite vexing in practical reality. Thus, I took special notice of a recent article by Dr. Van in his "Cogitations." I think he gives some sound, concise, Biblically-based advice on the subject. "Christians ought to have some clear pattern to follow in making decisions, whether major or minor. We are constantly making choices. Many things we do out of habit, and establishing commendable habits is important in every life. Some, when they face an important decision, wonder, “What would a parent do?” A good question to ask is, “What would Jesus do?” We make some decisions quickly, without much thought. We may mull over pros and cons of some matters for days and never come to a solution. Too often we only mentally flip a coin (yes, that’s a type of gambling). "There are principles in the Word of God which a believer needs to keep in mind for every decision he makes each day. The first and most important principle is not really a decision open for discussion, and so, although it is primary, it does not involve any “process.” If Scripture says do it, do it; if Scripture forbids it, don’t do it. Many choices are just that clear cut. Should we ever lie? Ought we ever to steal? Should we spend time or money on lascivious living? Should we encourage a grieving brother? Our response to whatever God expects should not be just meeting “the letter of the law,” but a joyful willingness to do His will. "Many moral issues and personal choices are that simple: obey God; do what the Scripture teaches. Should I be a witness to others? That is clearly commanded. Should I go as a missionary to Germany? Several choices and decisions are involved. For such non-moral and unrevealed matters, a simple pattern seems helpful: Ask, Search, Believe. This ASB pattern for decision making should be easy to understand, easy to remember, and easy to put into practice. To repeat, it is not to be employed for anything which is clearly commanded or forbidden in God’s authoritative instruction book (2 Tim 3:16-17). "Adam was given only one restriction, Do not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Of the other trees and other fruits he saw day after day, he could freely choose. The number, the variety, the color, the taste – for all of those fruits Adam had full freedom of choice. Whatever he chose and for whatever reason he chose it, he was honoring God. Similarly we today may freely choose to wear a green sweater or a blue one. We may prefer pie to cake. "Our choices, thus, are not always right vs. wrong, but good vs. better, acceptable vs. preferable. Making a “wrong” choice is not involved in non-moral or non-revealed decisions. Although many decisions are personal preferences within the scope of God’s provision, they pertain to matters which we consider really important: Which college? Which job? Knee replacement? To a nursing home? For these decisions involving the outcome of the choice, we desire to have guidance from One who knows us and who knows the future – that is, with God. Try: ask, search, believe. "Ask. You have not because you ask not (James 4:2). A quick, unspoken prayer will do it. Ask God for guidance, for wisdom, for discernment (James 1:5). Clear your heart of personal preferences and be open to whichever choice will most honor Him. Ask God for a proper attitude (see 1 Tim 6:17-19) while weighing which choice to make and in the full confidence of being guided by Him. "'Ask' does not take long. 'Search' means, Do not make a hasty or unfounded choice. You have asked for wisdom, now use the grey matter, and expect God to guide you. You have the Holy Spirit residing within to guide you. He can lead you to Scripture verses or to important principles. He can call to your remembrance things you should weigh. In His Word, God has given us all the guidance we need to make proper decisions; expect the Holy Spirit to impress those principles on your heart. "Do the 'smart' thing – God does not honor dumbness. Confer with godly advisors. Check with those most familiar with matters that are involved. Do not “put out fleece” or expect a lightning bolt. Carefully consider everything involved, and as you face a deadline, make the best choice you can based on all you have considered. "Then trust that God has guided you in your decision. That’s the B of our formula: Ask, Search, Believe. You asked God; now believe He heard and answered and guided you in your choice. Believe that the Holy Spirit directed in the wisdom employed in reaching your decision. Accept that God has provided the principles and the special wisdom needed. He has directed you to make the decision that will best glorify Him. Do not doubt. Do not replay the pros and cons over and over. You asked God to guide – why doubt that He has done so? "Does this mean that if we employ the ASB pattern every decision we make will be the “right” decision? Will we always profit financially? Will all problems always be cleared up? Any who expect that are missing one important phase of the process: the decision we make will “glorify God.” Sometimes that may not mean “success” or “profit” as the world sees it, but in God’s supreme plan for our spiritual maturity, it is that which will accomplish His best. We believe and accept that. We know that all that God wants for us is for our good. All that God allows to happen to us is for some eternal benefit. Till we see Him face to face, we just trust Him and rejoice in His grace and goodness."

Monday, July 21, 2008

Passing it on:

Last week, as TEENWEEK was winding down, I had what could be a once in a lifetime experience.
All of "my guys" were in town. These are guys whom it has been my privilege to mentor, who are serving the Lord in significant ways.
A friend of mine took a picture of all of us at lunch. As soon as he sends me the photo, I'll post it. But here is the roster:
  • Doug Williams is a missionary to the Awa in Ecuador. He is currently serving as Associate Pastor/Missionary in Residence at CBC. He is currently involved in translating the Old Testament into Awapit.
  • Fred Stromberg is on furlough from Honduras. He is involved in church-planting in Ocotepeque.
  • Pink Davis is just about ready to leave for New Zealand (If you are looking for a missionary to support, he is your man.)
  • Daniel Cook is Assistant Pastor at a church in Easton PA.
  • Chris Merrell, a former youth pastor, is seeking direction having been recently forced to leave the country where he had been seeking to be involved in a church planting movement.

What an encouraging lunch. We chatted, we ate, we shared our hearts.

Thanks guys. Let's keep the ball rolling.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Pictures from Day 3, Water Night:

DTWOTYL (pronounced ditwattel) stands for dump the water on the youth leader. Brian Gingrich awaits the inevitable.
The old yellow tent continues to serve.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

TEENWEEK continues:

I'll get some more pictures up in the morning, but PTL, we had 197 teens at the Basketball night of TW.
Thank you for your support of this great ministry. I look forward to testimonies tomorrow, so I can hear about some of the decisions that have been made.
I was able to talk to a young lady about her soul. She told me that she had recently trusted the Lord. She said that she was very glad that she was here this week.

We have a great staff. Thanks!


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Pictures from Monday Night at TEENWEEK

Last night's activities consisted of 5 group obstacles. Teens had to use brains as well as braun, but mostly team-work to get through them:

Tonight we are at the City Pool, 6:00.
Over at 10:00

Monday, July 14, 2008

TEENWEEK day #2:

It is Tuesday morning.
I'm sorry that I didn't get this posted sooner, but the system wasn't working right last night.

We had 120 teens at TEENWEEK Sunday, and around 160 last night. Greg Alderman had a great message. The kids listened especially well.
As you can see our staff is enthusiastic and the kids are having a great time.

Tonight we meet at 6:00 at the Main Street Park, Covington (Swimming Pool)
We do swimming, D.T.W.O.T.Y.L. (pronounced, ditwatel, it's a traditional teenweek game from antiquity.) Greg will be speaking again.
Sometime during the day on Sunday we'll show the TEENWEEK video at CBC. I'll give copies to Pastors Price and Gillette so they can show it as well, if they want to.
More later.

TEENWEEK is here:

TEENWEEK is an amazing happening.
Grace Brethren Church, Faith Baptist Church, and Covington Bible Church put on a great series of events for teens every summer. We began, yesterday with an event at Lake Moomaw.
We went green this year. Other than transporting the group and the equipment to the Lake we used no fossil-fuels in TEEENWEEK Day #1. The kayaks and canoes were propelled by very young muscles.
God is good! He would be good even if our event had been held up by rain, but the weather was a reminder to us about God's grace. We drove through a major rainstorm to get to the Cole's Point recreation area. By the time we got there it was dry. Later, during our meeting, when we were under shelter #1, the rain resumed. for some reason I had emphasized getting all the teens under the roof before the meeting started, so when the rain came the some adults who were on the perimeter had to move in, but the kids were already in place in the dry. : ) PTL!
I don't have the official #s, yet, but there were around 120 teens there, yesterday.
Since our main speaker, Greg Alderman, is arriving today, Chris Merrell shared a message about how to make the most of this week. The bottom-line is something all of us, old as well as young, need to apply.
  • Pray--a number of kids signed up to pray at 10:00 & 2:00. Join in!
  • Realize that life is not primarily about me, but about God, and what the Lord wants to do through us, particularly,
  • Reaching out to others. Draw them in. Reach out to them. Share the Lord with them.
  • Make the most of the opportunities. We can see our area change as we see lives changed.

I hope to put up some pictures later today.

Check back for updates.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Some further thought on Micronesia:

Missions work is complicated. It always has been. I think it is more so today because of the rapid change in the world around us.
I have already introduced you to Asial Ruda. I enjoyed getting to know him while I was in Palau. Like me, he was visiting there for Gospel Day. Though he is Chuukese, and ministers in Yap, for a number of reasons--involvement with Liebenzell Mission, being a graduate of PIBC (Or as it was known when he graduated, Micronesian Instutute of Biblical Studies), etc.--he has a number of connections to the church in Palau. Over a couple of meals that we shared together, Asial shared with me about some of the changes that have taken place in his Island state. Asial is still in his 40s. He told me that when he first went to Yap it was common for people to show up at church functions wearing grass skirts. When there was a meal at their meeting place, many people would bring food wrapped in leaves. No more. Now it is Western clothing and Tupper-ware. Former Missionary on Palau, Bill Schuit, told how when he was there, boats were the primary means of transportation, now roads and bridges have changed life so that one local told him that only tourists and fishermen use boats now.
In the West, we have been dealing with negative culture for decades and we still aren't doing as well as we would like. There is no gradual change in these Islands on the other side of the world. When satellite TV comes, it all comes. When Internet access arrives, everything can be accessed.
Missionaries, pastors and other Christians workers are constantly trying to hit a moving target. "Let's see what is the status of the culture of the people I'm trying to reach, today?"

My conclusion is that in a place like Micronesia, where there is a substantial church already in existence--flawed, but in many places, and ways, basically sound--that our best chance is to help train a generation of indigenous Christian-leaders, who can bring the changeless truth of scripture to their rapidly changing world.

Again, I welcome your comments.

Check out my friend, Dave Owen's blog for some more pictures and reports.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Can a church lacking in orthopraxy, really be orthodox?

Again, if this is the first time you are reading this blog for a while, you might want to read the last 2 postings. Hopefully, they will make this one make more sense--or less nonsense, maybe.
[in the picture to the right, Asial Ruda, a Chuukese missionary to Yap, and Harald Gorges, Liebenzell Mission, Germany]

I grew up spiritually in an Fundamentalist environment. My church was an IFCA, Bible Church. My pastor graduated from Moody, back when it was a bastian of conservative Christianity. I attended a Bible Institute and Bible College that both had a clear linkage to the birth of Fundamentalism in the early-mid 2oth
Century. I pastor a church that comes from the same heritage.

If I am talking to the right person, I might describe myself as a Fundamentalist. I owe a great deal to those who came out from among the liberals and Biblical compromisers of the past.

However, the word Fundamentalist has come to mean something different than it once did. It seems like Fundamentalists used to stand for something. Often, now, they primarily stand against things. Then there are many who call themselves Fundamentalists who have taken extreme positions--KJV only, various dress-codes, a very narrow view of aceptable music, etc. When people have this in mind when they use the term Fundamental, I reject the label. Unfortunately, in the current culture, I'm afraid that this is the kind of philosphy that people usually associate with the term. (Likewise the term "evangelical" is becoming so associated with politics that it may be a worthless description as well.)

I tell you a little about where I came from, in order to give you a frame of reference for what I am about to write.

Fundamentalist type mission agencies, in my experience have been rather quick to declare vast parts of the world as devoid of any sound churches and in great need of evangelism. I think everyplace is in need of a greater witness, and the Lord commanded us to go into all the world, but the following anecdotes will give some idea of what I mean:

  • I remember hearing a missionary, speaking in a Bible College Chapel, say concerning an entire country that there was no sound gospel witness there. I remember sittng there, thinking about a friend of mine who was a missionary in the country that was being mentioned. The problem was my friend ministered with a mission that didn't have "Baptist" in it's name. So it didn't count.

  • I was, a couple of years ago, in a preacher's meeting where a representative for a stateside church planting mission was speaking. He made the categorical statement that every community, not just town or city, but every community ought to have a Bible Church. I remember thinking what if a small community has a conservative Presbyterian church, a solid Baptist Church, through in a Brethren, Gospel preaching Charismatic, and a solidly Evangelical Methodist Church for good measure. Should that community have a Bible Church? Should the resources that are perhaps already spread to thin be further dilluted by the entrance of another church? I fear that the gentleman would have unequivocally responded, "Yes."

  • In recent years I have become acquainted with some fine Christians from other parts of the world whose heritage is much different than mine. My Fundamentalist upbringing (and colleagues, I fear) look at suspiciously at these believers. (To be sure there are areas of disagreement between me and them, but) I have been impressed with these folk's passion to serve our Lord and to live life based on the teaching of God's word. These Christians don't cross their "T"s and dot their "I"s in the same way I do, but they are solid Christians doing good work. I have been privileged to be in parts of the world where they have left their missions imprint. Some of the churches they have left behind are carrying on solid ministry; others, not so much--not unlike the pattern I observe in churches founded by more Fundamental mission agencies. Yet many in the Fundamental camp are not even willing to give these folk a place at the table. They look at what they have done and instantly declare that it is insufficient, and not worthy of support.

I asked the question in the title of this post, Can a church be orthodox if it is lacking right practice? One of the problems is that we in the Fundamentalist tradition have been very good at "rightly dividing" the Word of God and constructing ever more narrow doctrinal statements to keep out various heterodoxies. It is much harder to look at a church and judge whether or not the ministry is leading to sound living. I know the two should go together. My observation is they often do not.

I fear that too often decisions about where to plant churches are being made on an entirely insufficient search for orthodoxy, without a correspondingly rigorous investigation concerning the difference that a ministry may be making in the lives of people.

Again, I'm open for comment.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

What is the best way of getting the job done?

If you just checked in, you might want to read my previous post to get some background on what I'm talking about. I took this lovely little girl's picture right after a very long service, June 29th at the Koror Evangelical Church. I know some of the people who teach her, and other boys and girls in Palau. I know that these folk have a great desire to see little girls like this grow into women who love the Lord, and serve Him passionately. Having met some Palauan Christians who are 10, 20, 6o years older than this little girl, I see some measure of success.

So, how do we seek to provide the best opportunity for this child to grow in the Lord, reach her peers and make a difference in her tiny island-nation?

Obviously, we need to infect her world with the gospel. I didn't, likely couldn't talk to this little girl, but judging from where and when I met her--having just come from a children's meeting at church--and by the smile on her face I think there is good evidence that the Gospel has entered her heart.

If people are going to serve the Lord, there needs to be more. What is the best way of providing the people of a particular area the resources to get the job done for the Lord? In particular, let me frame the question this way:

I'm trying to keep this abstract, but I just read a blog that said that this little girl's church is hopelessly deficient. What is needed is a new, different, better, more nearly doctrinally correct assembly of believers. While out on a bike-ride I went by the church founded by the blogging pastor. Is he reaching people for Jesus? I hope so. Is what he is doing--and those who work him--best for the Christian future of my young, photogenic friend? I'm not so sure.

I don't know the pastor of the church I rode by, but do have some acquantence with the mentality that seems to always think that the answer is to start another church. I get the idea that faced with following scenario many of my colleagues would give their standard answer: "What this community needs is a solid New-Testament Bible-preaching (fill in some other descriptive words) Church. I think I'll start one."

  • A town of a thousand located at an oasis in the middle of an otherwise desolate, desert Island, surrounded by thousands of miles of ocean.

  • In that town there are four churches all which basically teach the Bible, each with a solid attendance of 250.

  • However, one church baptizes wrong, another sings wrong, the third associates with objectionable ministries, and the fourth has a pastor who has been married too many times.

In my observation, which is admittedly very limited, before missionary X goes to my fictional village to start a fifth church, he doesn't even know about all four churches. Or, if he does his knowledge is very limited.

Just a question a few questions for thought:

  • Is a fifth church really what this community needs?

  • Is there a place for a ministry that might help move one or more of these existing churches to move toward a more nearly Biblically-correct position? (I have been pastoring the same church for 35 years. We still don't have it right.)

  • We are stewards of the resources God has placed in our keeping. Is this the best way to use them?

We desire to see the church blossom, but the some of the decisions we have to make along the way are prickly! We will not wrestle with these tough choices without some discomfort.

Some friends of mine, missionaries, a while back were faced with some choices along the lines of what I am discussing. Here are some communites with churches, all flawed. What is the best way for us to have a lasting impact? How do we help begin a movement that will result in the Gospel going out for generations? My friends chose to work with those churches and leaders who were willing to be taught. The answer, they concluded was not to start a new church, but help an old one.

Speaking of help, I could use some in clarifying my thinking. I'm not done yet, but I welcome your comments.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Seventy-nine years of the Gospel.

It was just my privilege to be in Palau for a little over a week. Yes, I did survive. In fact a week ago today I was enjoying a picnic on one of the lovely beaches in the Rock Islands of Palau. I understand it was one of the spots featured in the series. While I did enjoy the scenery, snorkeling, food, and the new experiences; that wasn't why I was there.

It is complicated as to how I got there, but I'm on the board of the Pacific Islands Bible College. The main part of our operation is on the Island of Guam--a USA territory, and the hub of the region called Micronesia. To get there go to Hawaii and keep going for another 4,000 miles, or head to Japan and head south for 1,500 miles or there-abouts. Overall the region is a big as the Continental United States, but all the land mass together is smaller than Rhode Island. As one would expect, because of the vast expanses of ocean that separate these Islands, there is a great deal of diversity among the people of this region. The following is not exhaustive; it represents my limited interface with this little-known (at least to most Americans) part of God's world.

Beginning in the 16th Century Portuguese and Spanish explorers made contact with the islands. The region was dominated by Spain until 1899.

For the next couple of decades Germany was the dominant influence.

In the World-War-One era the Japanese moved in. They developed many of the Islands militarily. On many of the Islands there were far more Japanese than natives. Their mark on the culture of the Islands can be heard in the languages, tasted in the food, and discerned in the phonebook by reading the names.

Most Americans are familiar with the War in the Pacific--part of World War II. Pelileu is part of Palau. The people of Guam celbrate not only the Fourth of July, but, also, July 21st--commemorating the American liberation of the Island from Japanese control. A friend of mine from Yap told me about how many of neighbors were made slave-labor for the Japanese military, and how he hid in a homemade bomb shelter during American bombings. The Chuuk lagoon is known as the Japanese Pearl Harbor. In Operation Hailstone many warships and transfer vessels were sunk. They remain until the present, making the lagoon a premier wreck diving site.

The United States was the controlling influence in the region following the war. That influence continues, even though the most of the Islands are now part of independent nations.

The Federated States of Micronesia is made up of Chuuk, Yap, Pohnpei, and Kosrae. There are nearly 110,ooo people who live there.

Guam is a US Territory, witch maintains a significant military presence there. The native Chomorro people are minority. You can shop at Kmart, eat at chain restaurants, and do other typical American things there. There are between 150, and 200 thousand people who live there. It is a horrible place to go bird-watching. The brown tree snake, accidently imported during WWII, has all but eliminated the avian population.

Palau is one of the smallest nations in the world. It has a population of 21,000. It appeared to me that all of them do nothing more than drive their cars up and down the main road in the Capital, Koror. : )

There are some other Islands involved, but since I haven't had much to do with them, I'll leave the research up to you.

PIBC is a college that functions in three different nations. The main campus is on Guam. We have a campus in Chuuk state and a teaching facilities in Chuuk state, and Yap state of the Federated States of Micronesia. We also have a teaching facility in Palau. That represents people whose primary language is Chuukese, Yapese, Palauan. The campus on Guam is also host to people who speak several other tongues. Instruction at the college is in English. Students have to pass a proficiency exam to enroll.

As I said, before I got into the geography lesson, I was in Palau because I serve on the board of PIBC. This year, so we could interface with a celebration of the Palauan Evangelical Church, our yearly meeting was held in Palau. Billy Kuartei, board member, pastor of Koror Evangelical Church, and Palauan president's chief of staff, was our host.

Meetings are meetings, so I won't bore you with the details. Bottom line, thanks to the dedicated, sacrificial ministry of the staff, the school is moving ahead with its mission to train servant leaders in this region.

Seventy-nine years ago missionaries from Liebenzell Mission (here is a link to the American division of the mission) Germany together with representatives from the Evangelical Church of Chuuk, brought the Gospel to the Islands of Palau.

Liebenzell published a book with an overview of the growth of the church in Palau. If you contact them at the address above, they'll help you get one. I don't know what they cost.

Today there are congregations in many of the communities.

As I sat in meetings celebrating the entrance of the Gospel to these Islands, and participated in a group discussion related to church issues, I was struck by several thoughts. Check back over the next several days, and I'll share some thoughts and questions for discussion.