Friday, April 25, 2008

More on Seeking and Finding

I wrote this back in November of 2006. It is one of my better stories and since no one was reading back then (unlike now?) I thought I would repost it. It makes the point- too often lost- that we must focus on Christ and when we do everything else falls into place.

Vacation is a good thing. I like to get away to a beach and read lots of books when I can. It usually happens every few years or so. Way out east is a far away country that I will call Dale. It is a peninsula on the sea and now my daughters go to school there. One year we went there and had a great vacation. We stayed in the Capitol City for a few days, then went up to the mountains, then out to an island for a week. I had been doing the good dad thing up to that point and one day out on the island I decided that it was time to really get by myself and seek God. I needed to hear from Him about many important things that were happening and for that I figured I needed some dedicated alone time.

The island had a large hill in the middle of it all covered in jungle. I grabbed my camera and my Bible and headed out the gate of the hotel, turned up the road toward the village and began to look for a path up the hill and into the jungle. I had not gone even two hundred yards when up came old Tom. He approached me from the boat docks and asked me where I was going. I said I was heading up the hill. He introduced himself to me and began walking with me. He ran a tourist boat there on the island and was just getting off work. I told him that I really just wanted to go up and see if I could get a picture of a monkey or two. I didn’t need any help. No, no really, I will be fine on my own. Please, just…. I …. you don’t have to…. But I was not willing to be out and out rude to the guy. I really did not want to be with him. I was really despairing of wasting the only time I was going to get away by myself.

As we went through the villlage he said, ‘Wait right here, I need to get my walking shoes.’ He turned into a Budhist Temple while I stood wondering two things, how am I going to ditch this guy, and does he really live in this Temple?

He came out with his shoes on and we started up the road. I don’t know why he wanted to come with me. I told him I didn’t have any money but he said he didn ‘t need any. He was off work and was happy to wander around with a tourist. He said he knew a great place to see monkeys. I said, ‘So, you live in that …. temple?’ ‘Yes’, he said, ‘Isn’t it sad? All those poor hopeless people.’ I wondered about that. ‘So, you don’t believe um, your not a Budhist?’ He said that no, he was not a Budhist but that he rented a room in the back from an old woman who owned the temple. ‘So, what do you believe?’ ‘I am a Christian’, he said. I was floored. I am on an unreached island in a Muslim country. How is he a Christian? I asked him his story. He told me that he was working on one of the big ships that run the shipping lanes in that part of the world and a guy shared the truth with him. He had a Bible but after leaving that ship had had almost no contact with other believers. As far as he knew he was the only believer on the island and he was lonely.

He shared Psalm 23 with me. From memory. I talked with him all afternoon. We found a little cove with lots and lots of monkeys and I fed them bananas as we continued to talk about the King. We prayed together and then as the sun set we came back over the hill to the village. I said good bye and he gave me a ball cap. It was red and he told me, ‘Every time you see this cap or put it on your head you pray for old Tom.’ I still do.

As I walked up that final two hundred yards back to the hotel by myself the King and I talked. I said, ‘Hey, I thought I was going to get some time with you to hear from you today?’ He said, 'So you did. Whenever you seek me you will find me. When you find me you will find that I am always with hurting people who need my touch.'

This answered pretty much all my questions. You want to ‘find God’? Go out and serve someone who needs you. He’s there. This then is my strategy, my methodology, my philosophy of ministry all rolled up into one story.

Taste and see.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Striving to Love More

I have read Rick Joyner’s The Vision many times and I am impacted by his words every time I read them. This paragraph quoting Jesus is particularly meaningful to me just now.

“In My kingdom, authority comes from who you are, not your title. Your ministry is your function, not your rank. Here rank is earned by humility, service and love. The deacon who loves more is higher than the apostle who loves less. On earth, prophets may be used to shake the nations, but here they will be known by their love. This is also your call- to love with My love and serve with My heart. Then we will be one.”

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Fredigar is looking tired

It has been a long day today. I got up this morning and did e-mail. Wrote some letters. Sent my daughter some emergency money to get her through her Senior Banquet- shoes, earrings, and a haircut were urgent indeed. I filled out a World Food Program proposal for a poor village- a Herculean feet to be sure. I then went out and helped a friend move into a new house. I sprinted from there- missing lunch- to a meeting about Bible translation and then went straight from there to a meeting about the new Bible College some friends of mine are establishing. But, no rest yet, I then went out with my wife to our house church where we had a meal together and then watched a video about God's work among Muslims. This particular video talked about the use of dreams in God's work with Muslims. It was very interesting. We got home around 8:30pm and then I finished reading the fifth Harry Potter book to my son. The book is over 750 pages long, pardon me while I catch my breath. But I can't go to sleep yet. I am inspired to write about Fredigar.

Fredigar and his wife come from the southern half of our planet. He is a lawyer and came to Middle Earth with great plans and ideas. He joined us and then set up a Christian law firm. I love him and his wife very much. When our friends in Anfalas were baptized a couple of years ago he said, "Praise God! I have been waiting nine months to hear about something like this." I told him I had been waiting for six years and he had better learn some patience. But he was determined to work hard and see instant results. He did work hard but he was constantly frustrated at the lack of tangible results. But he stayed at it. One day he was working with a young lady, her daughter, and her brother in a court case. He came to me and said, 'God called us to feed the hungry and this lady is hungry. I must take her in.' I thought it was a terrible mistake but God said to me right in that moment, 'Strider, he must do this for his own sake more than for hers.' I was not sure what this meant. I told him it was crazy but to go for it. He took them all in. He and his wife had been unable to have children and now late in life- not that late they are in their early fifties- they had a very disfunctional family. They were a mess. There were all kinds of issues and it is a long story but for now just know that the lady is not living with them anymore and they are now the sole provider for the little daughter who is just five years old. They also look after the teenage brother who has such severe issues they don't know what will become of him.

Fredigar continued to work at the law firm. He has been continually frustrated that he was not able to save Gondor in a year's time. But he wont quit. Today his office is a place of constant ministry. People come for counsel and they are prayed for and cared for. He started a small business enterprise recently to train local believers with a skill so that they could go out to the villages of Gondor and do ministry. As a lawyer he is continually sought out to give advice concerning the myriad of Governmental issues that assail all of us. Fredigar is looking tired. He has lost weight. His face is drawn. As I look at him I am concerned for his health both physical and emotional. But God is teaching me something new. It is a very old something new that I should know but somehow I have not learned. Under the old covenant the priest used to pour out drink offerings. Paul refers to this as he describes himself as being poured out on behalf of those he was called to minister to. Fredigar is pouring his life out in love for inumerable people in need. He is pouring his life out as a drink offering to Christ. He has loved and loved and loved until the lines on his face proclaim the passion and compassion of Jesus. I do not love this way. Oh, I believe in rest, in pacing oneself, in relying on Jesus to solve other's problems and not trying to be everyone's saviour myself. Fredigar understands this too. He just doesn't let it stop him from serving the poor with an unquenchable love. Fredigar is looking tired and I hope with all my heart that I can learn to be as tired as he is. I truly pray that I will be poured out as a drink offering for my Lord so completely that when Jesus returns he will find me with lines on my face and care-worn hands.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

A Demonstration of Love

After the civil war in Gondor Minas Tirith was a dangerous place. We moved here in 1997 with two other families. Gandalf and his wife served faithfully and loved others well. Then things slowed down. Peace and some stability came. In 2000 we had some other folks join our team. One day our team went to a one year remembrance ceremony for a friend of ours husband who had committed suicide the year before. The men went in the morning and the women in the afternoon. Us guys had a good meal and talked and went home. The ladies were more spiritual. Since our friend was a follower of Jesus and all her relatives were not our ladies decided to worship by singing songs, reading scripture and praying. Half way through there was a loud explosion. A car bomb had gone off at the foot of the building. Gandalf's wife's first reaction was to run down 12 flights of stairs to the courtyard below to see if any of the children who had been playing down there were injured. I think that two had minor injuries- maybe one boy had a broken arm. After to seeing to the needs there everyone went home. Arwen, my wife, came in and told me about the beautiful time of worship they had. Then she said, 'Oh yeah, and a car bomb went off outside and the new ladies are pretty upset. They want to have a meeting this afternoon to process it all. I am not going- you know I hate that kind of thing- but of course, since your team leader you'll have to go.' Gee, Thanks Arwen.

I went to the meeting and it went as I thought it might. The old crew- Gimli and his wife, Gandalf and his wife, and I- listened impatiently as the new folks processed the event and became more and more hysterical. To be fair, just two of the women were quite upset. Then to my surprise Gandalf shared this story; a story I knew about but had never heard him tell the whole tale. I will share it with you now.

In May of 1998 there was a fierce battle on the edge of Minas Tirith. We didn't know if the country would plunge back into civil war or not and we were praying hard that it would not. Most foreigners lived in the north of the city- except of course, for Gandalf and his wife. They lived more in the middle. The skies were overcast and we told my young daughters that the booms they were hearing were thunder. On the second day a couple of shells were launched over the hill blindly into town- we think to try and hit the President's house- and blew up a home a few doors down from Gandalf's. He called me on the radio and told me what happened and that he and his wife were going to go and help. I told him to be careful. The next part of the story I didn't hear until that day in 2000. When they arrived at the house the scene was surreal. The walls were destroyed and there were neighbors and family scurrying around everywhere putting out small fires and helping people out. In the middle of a completely devastated room of the house a man stood crying and wailing uncontrollably. Gandalf approached him and noticed that his hand was covered in blood. He was concerned the man was injured. The man said he was not injured but showed Gandalf and his wife a piece of metal in his hand covered not with his blood but the blood of his daughter. She was dead, covered in a blanket in the corner of the room. The metal was shrapnel that had gone through her head. Gandalf and his wife tried to console him and get him out of the destroyed home. He went on and on about how this piece of metal had ended his own life. Gandalf in typical West Texas style said, 'Brother, if that thing is causing you pain get rid of it!' The man handed it to Gandalf and ask him to keep it for him. Last I heard he still has it.

Gandalf then radioed me. I told him to get out of that neighborhood and come to my house immediately. He said, 'OK.' and I was very surprised. I was not surprised when five minutes later he radioed back and said, 'How about plan 'B'.' He and his wife were going with all the neighbors to a basement in another neighbors home. The whole community was terrified and they wanted to stay and minister to them. I agreed but made them promise that at night they would come to my house and stay until the fighting was over. They did.

Now, it will probably shock you to know that this story was not too helpful to the new folks in the year 2000. They demanded to know what kind of place this was that they had come to. I lost patience at that point and said, 'Look, you can go home if you want to but the people of Gondor can't go anywhere. We came here to proclaim Jesus and they have never needed Him more.' And then I left the meeting. Gimli later said that in future the old guard should not be allowed to process with new people. Maybe he's right. All those new people stayed by the way and served God here in incredible ways.

I think about Gandalf and that bloody piece of metal sometimes. I hope that I will always have the fearless grace to stand and minister to people in the midst of chaos and tragedy. I think you get that by ministering to people in love everyday.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Gandalf the White

We started our work here in Gondor with two other families. I have told you several stories about Gimli and his wife who now work in Ithilien but I have not told you about Gandalf. Today I right this wrong.

Gandalf was an older man (same age as my father actually) who was married to a much younger woman. He married her late in life after his first wife died of cancer. Gandalf and his wife were well experienced by the time they came to us. They were what we have come to call 'long term International Service Corps' workers. The ISC are workers who come out on two year contracts. Gandalf's wife had been divorced (it was part of her conversion story) and so they could not ever be career. Don't get me started on that extreme injustice. Anyway, they had done several two year terms in places that would turn your hair white just to read the names. In 1997 they came and joined our team here in Gondor. I was privileged to have them but truthfully I was also a little bit intimidated to be the supervisor of a man who was my father's age and well seasoned in the work. I wont say it was always easy to supervise them but it was always a privilege and that is the truth.

They, like me had served in
Rohan for a time teaching English as a second language. We decided that we would not do that in Gondor as the needs were totally different. I should say right now that if one thing distinguished Gandalf from everyone else it was his love for the people to whom he was sent. He and his wife were of one mind in this and I learned much about love from them. Gandalf never learned the local language well. Most missionaries who fail to learn the local language well fail to love well. There are a few, very few exceptions and Gandalf was a big one. Love poured out of him everywhere he went and people immediately sensed that he cared about them when he came into a room. His wife learned the language better and they were a great team as he loved people and she shared the reason why!

One day they came to me and said, 'Strider, I know we said that we would not teach English here but God is asking us to start an English club. We don't want to but He is calling us to do it.' They said that it would just last six months and then be over. Oh, and by the way, it would be an English language club that studied the book of Job. Yeah, right. That's a good idea. Well, in the end it was. After six months of studying with about eight students three of them accepted Christ and all of them were very impacted. At this time we started our new humanitarian aid organization that would focus on disaster relief. We needed a secretary. I was willing to hire and work with Muslims, no problem, but our secretary who would be our office administrator really needed to be a believer whom we could trust to represent us well.
Gandalf's wife said that she had just the girl. A young girl who had come to faith in the English club. I was skeptical. She was shy and inexperienced. She would hardly talk to me. But Gandalf and his wife insisted she was the one.

We hired her and while
Gandalf and his wife moved on to Mordor a few years ago and are now retired the secretary is still with us. She was instrumental in starting the first church we started and has been a faithful minister to many in our office over the years. You see, love is not blind after all. In fact, true love sees much. It sees the treasure in others that only God sees. It sees what God can make in a life even when we only see mediocrity, sin, and waste. If I have learned anything from Gandalf and his wife it is that I am called to seek treasure. The treasure in everyone around me. The treasure that God is creating men and women to be. Are you surrounded by turkeys? Look with the eyes of love- not sentimentality by true self-sacrificing love and see what God is doing. Then in love call it forth and see what God is longing to make of the men and women around you. It is what you are here for.

Saturday, April 05, 2008


I have a number of mottos or slogans that I use to remind myself of what I am suppose to be about. One of these is that no matter what I will always be hospitable. I firmly believe that hospitality is one of the key characteristics of a believer. But isn't a motto like 'I will always be hospitable' flexible. Surely there are exceptions. We need to be able to judge each situation carefully. God gave us brains and we should use our common sense. I think that last sentence has been used more times to take us off of the path that God wants us on than just about any other. How many times have you said it? I have said it loads. I am coming to believe that God doesn't think much of 'common sense'.

A couple of weeks ago we were contacted by another team in another country. They wanted to come to Gondor for awhile. I know these guys. They are highly competent, driven, sold out no hold out kinda guys. The last time they were here they were stressed out and made some decisions I disagreed with- nothing immoral or anything like that- just basic differences in how we make decisions. Anyway, I wrote them and said that coming here was not a good idea. I told them that if they needed a break they should go somewhere where they would not be so stressed. I challenged their reasoning to leave their own country of service at all. I was rude. I violated my hospitality principle. If you knew the whole story you might say, "Hey, Strider lighten up! You had a right to ask the questions you did." Yeah, I did have a 'right'. But I was wrong. I found out later that these guys were not looking for a break. There were truckloads of reasons they had to leave that I knew nothing about. I had judged them and in doing so found myself wanting. They needed me to take them in and be hospitable during a difficult time and instead found a guy with a three year old axe to grind.

So, what's the motto? Always be hospitable. Will we stick to the Lord's game plan this time? I hope so. There is a lot of stuff about love in the Bible. The Lord has given us loads of verses which amount to very specific instructions about loving each other, caring for each other, being hospitable. Of course there are times when it isn't a good idea. There are times when we need to draw boundaries. There are times when it is just common sense to push someone away. Every single time we do that we will be less like Jesus. When we open ourselves to loving others unconditionally, to always inviting them in no matter what we will be vulnerable. People will take advantage of us. People will wrong us. We will get tired, run out of resources. People will betray us and eventually we will be crucified. When we are then we are most like our Lord. Others may betray me but I will try very hard not to betray myself again. That team deserves my help not because of who they are but because they belong to my Master. I will serve them and in doing so become more like Him.