Me with my lovely wife, Kathy:

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Reading Between the Lines of a Missionary Prayer Letter



I receive emails from various missionaries and mission groups. Not long ago, I was one of those who sent such prayer letters. This brief report, that I read this morning, really spoke to me, not only for what it said but for the challenge it implied. I edited it a bit, to remove identifiers and to make the brief account clearer. I'll share a few comments afterward

From the world, where things like this happen (the request contained the missionaries place of service):
We marvel at God’s workings! A coworker from a social ministry project regularly attends a meeting of a group of subsistence farmers. He noticed that one of the female participants had not planted a field next to her house. It turned out the woman had been accused of having used magic to kill her nephew. The boy had died of malaria. As a result of her familynand church believing this accusation, she was beaten so severely, she couldn’t even move for a long time. So the coworker and associates planted a field with her, even though they weren’t sure there would be enough rain to produce a good harvest. "We also tried to point to reconciliation through God," as all those involved in the beating incident attend the same church.

They report, "How happy we were, when three months later we were able to have a thanksgiving service on that woman’s field – not only for a good harvest but also for the joyous news that she has forgiven her family. Later we heard that her brother, acting as the head of the family, had asked her for forgiveness."

Christians have often been accused of "killing their own wounded." Having been a pastor for most of my life, and working in Christian organizations all my life, it is far too often a fair observation. "Coworker" found a way to step in and redeem such a situation. She/he did so on several levels: 

  • In the environment where this story originates, this field represented an important part of a family's livelihood. It is probably not saying too much to say that whether or not this field was planted was a matter of life and death.
    I, and you, need to be looking for places where we can step in and interrupt the flow of evil in this world. The church has an impressive history of doing this. From the early church rescuing abandoned infants in the Roman Empire, to Christians stepping up to care for victims of the Black  Plague in the middle ages, to modern-era missions erecting hospitals and aiding with agriculture all over the world, dedicated Christians have chosen to light a candle rather than merely curse the darkness. Thanks, Coworker, for this example.
  • Whenever tragedy strikes, sin is usually lurking around. The "father of lies" looks for any opportunity to damage the church. Here is a church in an agricultural community minus all the tractors, silos, and equipment that mark farming in the west. These aren't folk who grow tomatoes because they can grow better ones than those available at Walmart. For these folk, if their field produces they eat. If it doesn't they don't. The devil is smart enough to know that someone attending the funeral(s) that would have taken place, had not Coworker and his band stepped in, would draw the clear conclusion, "This is the church's fault. The beating this woman received was a sin not only against her but against those dependent on her. Worse, it doesn't take too much imagination to see that but for Coworker, this would have resulted in a stain on the reputation of the church--even The Church.
  • Did you note that Coworker didn't plant the field alone? "Associates" helped. Further, the group of outsiders didn't do it for the injured woman, they did it with her. There are times when brave, dedicated Christians need to step up on their own, but those occasions are rare. Usually, the pattern one can observe in the book of Acts--partnership--should be the mode of action. 
  • As important as it was for this family to be fed, that wasn't most important. The brief praise and prayer note didn't say for sure, but I take it that "the brother acting as the head of the family" is the father of the boy who died from malaria. If so, it makes the forgiveness that was offered all the more powerful. The Apostle Paul tells his son-in-the-faith, Titus, to teach his congregation "to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. . . . to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people." (Tt 3:1–2 & 8). This is part of the lifestyle that results in "the word of God . . . not be[ing] reviled" (Tt.2:5), and "condemned" (Tt 2:8). In fact it results in the "adorn[ing of] the doctrine of God our Savior" (Tt 2:10). Can you imagine that people like you, me, Coworker, and Associates have the opportunity to make the truth about Jesus Christ more attractive to those who live around us? We do!
I prayed for the missionaries who shared this request. I thanked the Lord for the good harvest and the reconciliation that came as a result of this act of kindness. I ask that the Lord will continue to provide these missionaries, Coworker, and Associates with opportunities to show the Good News in practical ways. But, I also prayed, "Lord, what can I do to make the Gospel more attractive to those who watch me?" I'll try to remember to not only read what is written in missionary prayer letters but to read between the lines, as well.

Monday, October 4, 2021

Politics and Brotherhood:

 I had a break from mainland USA & Virginia politics. On Guam, where I spent most of the five years, and in the island nations and states of Micronesia, people take their politics seriously, but it clearly has a different character. There are only 170,000, or so, residents of Guam. Some of the legislative contests in FSM and Palau are decided by electorates of a few hundred or even less. Often the main candidates for a position are relatives. Even on Guam, a US territory, the social group from which candidates are usually drawn is a pretty small club. This familiarity tends to bring a measure of civility. I haven't seen that in the current Virginia contest for governor. The mud is deep. Even though most of you don't live in the Old Dominion, I figure you have a share of the wet, sticky soil in your neighorhood.

As citizens, we have a responsibility to wade through the mud and make the best decision we can. 

As citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, those who claim to be Christ-followers have a greater responsibility. The difficult fact of elections is that someone (sometimes several someones) losses. The Body of Christ, however, Democrat, Republican, Independent, abstainers, etc. goes on. In the final analysis, it is the church that will make the ultimate difference in this world. Read John 13:35, 1 Timothy 2, and Titus 1-3 as examples of what the church can, and should, do.

Lance Witt offers some thoughts on honoring one another within the church. It is a needed reminder. Let's put brotherhood above partisanship.

Friday, October 1, 2021

I May Not Live on Mars Hill, but

 I am in the neighborhood. 

The CT (Christianity Today) podcast series, The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill. Is a powerful piece of work. I have listened to all of it, nine episodes at this point, and have found it compelling. I find it so from a historical viewpoint, as one of the greatest demonstrations of hubris I have ever seen, as an illustration of the reality that sin is often very much at home in the pulpit, but, most significantly, as a warning. We little guys can take as much pride (used in the clearly negative sense) in our 50 or 100 as Driscoll did in his thousands. Numerical success can be--please note that I said "can be," not "is"--a curse.

Trevin Wax offers an insightful commentary on how the hunger for a real father may have--I think does--motivate especially young men to gravitate to the likes of Driscoll. It is worth the read.

For decades I was privileged to spend a morning a week with some pastoral colleagues who served with me in my small town. Frequently, the conversation would go to a search for, or a discussion of "the key"--What is it that makes a ministry succeed? I have no doubt that hundreds, if not thousands, of young pastors thought they had found the key by learning to rant and even cuss like Driscoll. In any worthwhile sense they didn't succeed. I would make the case that they hadn't even located the doorknob. 

Our calling as pastors is not to build the biggest church in town. It is to be faithful to God's word

I can't begin to tell you how many times I have heard someone with a shiny new key in hand ridicule that truth. Perhaps you chuckled or sneered when you read it just now. You ignore it not only at your own peril, but you endanger the souls of those God has called you to shepherd. There is a strong warning that comes from Mars Hill.

DON'T.


Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Why Can't We Just All Get Along? Maybe we can't , or maybe we don't want to.

 Not out of a voyeuristic urge but out of concern for the church in general, and, in particular, for those churches with which I am involved, I took time this morning to read the report of the difficulties being faced at Bethlehem in Minneapolis. (The church where John Piper was the longtime lead pastor.) I fear and think that their issues are shared broadly among Evangelical churches.

If you are a subscriber to CT you can find a report here. If you are not a subscriber I would imagine a web search will reveal other articles.

The CT article pointed me to two other articles that attempt to classify the fault lines along which Evangelicals are dividing. One by Kevin DeYoung categorizes four responses to current social conditions. The article includes two charts that describe how those who from contrite to courageous tend to respond to various issues that present themselves in our world today. The other by Michael Graham, looks at six factions within Evangelicalism and then goes on to predict what the author sees as the way churches will be sorted. He sees three kinds of churches emerging.

As I read the article about Bethlehem and the other two articles I linked, I saw a probably over-simplified tension between orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Not that middle of the road is always best, but clearly in this case we need to work hard to both believe right and to behave correctly. 

It's tough.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Andrew Cuomo, The Fall of the Mighty

 The former (or is it, "soon to be former"?) governor of New York is not on my favorites list.

  1. He is pro-abortion.
  2. He has taken steps to undermine the sanctity of marriage as defined in Scripture.
  3. He is widely reputed to be a strong-armed bully. This, no doubt, has some to do with his recent fall from power.
  4. He has been, until he was recently abandoned by his former allies, a part of a political system that is taking America in a direction I don't like.
You would think I would rejoice at his fall from power. Don't bake a cake yet.

There are all sorts of self-satisfying observations that could be made, from a number of different perspectives.
  • No doubt some will take pleasure in knowing that a powerful man, accused of taking advantage of women is now being replaced by a woman. Kathy Hochul will be New York's first female chief executive. I pray that she will lead the State of New York well.
  • Cuomo tried to make the scandal go away. His arm that had proven strong enough to stiff-arm his way past previous attacks wasn't up to this task. No doubt, many black-eyed opponents of former conflicts are raising a glass to the powerful guy finally getting what's coming to him.
  • Philosophically some purveyors of wisdom-to-live-by feel vindicated. When you use people as stepping stones on the way up, you can't expect them to hold out a hand to you when you are on your way down
In the end, one of the most powerful men in America found himself defenseless and friendless. Out of all the sins available to a man like the governor of one of the most powerful states in the union, Andrew Cuomo was accused, tried in the court of public opinion, and convicted by an unofficial jury (whom I'm confident the former chief exec would regard as not anywhere close to being his peers), of the crime, for which the current zeitgeist affords no defense.

To the list above you would expect that I would take pleasure in Cuomo's eviction from the Executive Mansion (Even the eviction moratorium that Cuomo signed is no help.). Though I'm tempted to let loose with a "Yippee!" I'm resisting. Two reasons:
  1. First, I don't like lynchings. Perhaps I should say I do like some lynchings and that scares me. I realize that what happened to the former governor is not a court of law, but then again it kind-of, sort-of is, isn't it? For some in our culture when a certain accusation is made, the deal is as good as closed. I live in the South. We have an ugly history of taking justice into our own hands. In spite of his political positions, Cuomo perfectly fits the description of the kind of guy who always does what the former governor is accused of doing. To quote countless cowboy movies, "I've heard enough. String him up!" When that happens to someone in my tribe I feel the injustice. In cases like this where I could easily volunteer, "I've got a rope right here in the back of my truck," I need to extend the same caution.  Even if it isn't a real court, the accused deserves to have his day. 
  2. I've been reading a book that reinforces some conclusions I have drawn and been drawing about our postmodern times when there is no longer a widely agreed-upon view of right and wrong. It is a time when each "tribe" contends for its own view. In the lynchings of the past, that I mentioned above, the main evidence was often the color of the accused skin. One was not judged as an individual but as a representative of their group. Comparing the current trend with the tradition, rooted in the Bible, that dominated in the West until recently, author, Scott David Allen, says, "This biblical idea created the West, and none of us can fully imagine the dystopia that would result if we discard it in favor of the dehumanizing idea that individuals don’t exist, and that people are reduced to mouthpieces, drones, or avatars of the groups that define them. In this fraught cultural moment, we need to emphasize what unites us, not what divides us."*
    We need to resist this way of thinking even when--no, "especially when"--this judgment based on what group a person is in results in a verdict that I find agreeable.
Lest someone is tempted to draw some wrong conclusions, let me state categorically:
  • People of whatever gender, race, economic standard, etc. are creatures of God, bearers of His image. As such they deserve respect. If Mr. Cuomo is guilty of what he has been accused of he should suffer the just consequences. That same standard, however, applies to him. That same respect leads me to believe that Cuomo has a right to make his case.
  • I am not denying or doubting that workplace abuse is a common and grievous issue. It is right that systems be put in place to give victims, and those who are easily victimized, the protection they deserve.
  • I realize that those in positions of leadershp are held to a higher standard. In light of that higher standard, it may have been right for Mr. Cuomo to resign. Perhaps we can end on a note of agreement. For the State of New York and perhaps for our nation, at this time, this may have been the best, or "least worst," decision. 
Everywhere, let's follow the Apostle Paul's command, "First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way." (The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Ti 2:1–2). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.)

*Allen, Scott D.. Why Social Justice Is Not Biblical Justice: An Urgent Appeal to Fellow Christians in a Time of Social Crisis (p. 66). Credo House Publishers. Kindle Edition. 

Thursday, June 24, 2021

No, Mam, I'm not an Angel. I Just Have a T-shirt

 Hebrews 13:2 says, "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares."

This morning I was attempting to be hospitable and might--for at least a fleeting moment--been mistaken for an angel. I was unaware. I was walking out of Walmart. My items fit into a bag that was easily carried, so I was putting my buggy back in the cart corral, just inside the entrance. A lady, prime kids-at-home age was arriving as I was leaving. The carts were doing what they always do when you're in hurry--they stubbornly remained attached to the rest of the carts in the row. She looked like she was in a hurry when she yanked on the cart nearest to her. Young moms are almost always in a hurry. 

Dilemma: I'm old enough to remember when this wasn't an issue, but, "Will she take offense if I try to help?" I hesitated a moment, but then she yanked on the first-in-line buggy in the next row. It likewise refused to cooperate. I'm about a foot taller than the frustrated lady, so I figured I could use that as an explanation if I needed one--I'm taller. "I guess pulling from an upper direction freed the stupid thing." So prepared with my defense against, "I don't need a man to help me" type of feminism. I raised the back-gate on the cart, gave it a couple of severe jerks, and was relieved to see it roll free.

I'm sure the lady wasn't in distress, but she did need a shopping cart to get her shopping done. She very nicely said, "Thanks."

Then she looked at me with a smile and kind of chuckled. She looked like she was about to say something, but, as I said, young moms are almost always in a hurry, and, truth be told, I needed to be on my way. Maybe she figured that, so with the smile still on her face she pushed the cart in the direction of the family supper.

Out in the parking lot, the not distressed but in need of a cart woman's amusement suddenly made sense. I was privileged to serve, for a while, at Pacific Islands University, a tiny school on the island of Guam. A couple of years ago, a group from Pingalap, one of the atolls that make up the State of Pohnpei, which in turn is one of the states of the Federated States of Micronesia (all needless information, but I thought you would be amused). Anyhow this group of Pingalapese was using our campus for a retreat for their group of churches. Since I was in charge that day, the group gave gifts to my wife and me. Included in the gift bag was a t-shirt that says, "Holy Angels" on the front. I happened to have that shirt on this morning.

Mam, if this happens to come your way, please know, I walk, drive a car, or ride a bike--no wings. I was just trying to be kind. I really don't know why those words are on that shirt. I wasn't given an explanation. Anyhow, I hope your shopping was successful.

To the rest of you:
The word "angel" means messenger. On at least one occasion in the Bible, "angel" likely refers to a human. John addressed the seven letters in Revelation 2 to the seven angels of the seven churches. I agree with a common view of this passage that the "angel" of each church was the pastor of that congregation. Pastor or not, all of us have been, to quote the Blues Brothers, sent on a "mission by God." We are messengers. Our messages are often communicated by actions rather than words--I don't think I said anything to the woman heading into Walmart. I hope the message of kindness came through. God cares about people wrestling with stubborn grocery carts. Getting a grocery cart unstuck doesn't sound very angelic, but I think it is exactly what I should have done this morning, especially since I was wearing an angelic shirt. I'd like to think Gabriel and the guys are proud of me.


Saturday, June 19, 2021

Some thoughts from another blog and another project:

(I thought this post, from another blog, fit in on "The View . . ." so I'm double posting it.) 


Old Campers and Old Men, We Have Some Things in Common

 No pictures today:

Most of what I have been doing on the little camper has been pretty repetitive and boring. I have new fraining and a new piece of interior paneling on the rear of the trailer. Most of the siding is now off. Though it is pretty clear which piece goes where, I followed the advice of Larry (Mobiltec) (https://cannedhamtrailers.com/) and labeled each piece. (If you are in a project like this, do it on the inside (unfinished side) of the metal 😅). I also have done the same for windows. There is only one door, so I didn't label it. If I get to the point of not recognizing a door I figure Kathy will need to run an ad for an unfinished camper project.