Sunday, November 30, 2008

Once More Into the Breach

Well dear friends we have everything lined up, staked out, and packed up and we are leaving the West for Middle Earth on Tuesday. We go into uncertain times. The Ministry of Injustice cleared us but the Ministry of Security is very unhappy and would like to bother all westerners in poor little Gondor right now. We have one month visas and we will see what the Boss has in store for us beyond that. Our family is very ready to be back. Goldberry who is at boarding school will come and meet us in Gondor December 20th. We look forward very much to our reunion with our 16 year old daughter.

Pray for us as we return to a cold and possibly unfriendly Gondor. Do not consider that we are in danger in any way. Our national friends face many dangers and challenges but the most likely result of folks being very unhappy with us is that we will be kicked out of the country. I don't want that to happen but we will take whatever time they give us and use it as wisely as we can to sow eternal seeds for His eternal Kingdom. I have seen many get kicked out of the countries in which they were called to serve. Many have been emotionally devastated by the loss. They were so invested in the people that the King had called them to love that they went home broken as a result of being kicked out. For our family- and I think I can speak for our team- we love the people of Gondor very much but the reason we are in Gondor is because of our love for Christ. No government can take Him away from us! We are eternally His and He in turn has promised to be eternally ours. Grace and love like this demand an attitude of obedience and service. We gladly go to cold Gondor for Him and we will just as gladly leave there and follow Him wherever He wants us to go next. For Arwen and I who have been so rootless all of our lives we know that we will never be 'home' until He calls us to rest with Him in an eternal home where our visa will never expire and our welcome will never where out.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Falling Short

I know I need to finish off the Calvinistic Thinking posts but if you can be patient a little longer I promised a friend that I would tell her story. Really, it is the story of her husband but since I have her permission- and encouragement- I will tell the tale.

We didn't come to Middle Earth alone. I remember so well arriving at the home office for Candidate Conference and discovering someone else wanted to go to Gondor. At first we were afraid that we were in competition for the same job! Then we discovered that our Boss is trustworthy indeed- funny how we need to keep discovering that! No, this couple was coming to join us and we were to be a team. The first team to go to Gondor from our Company. Boromir was everything I was not. He was organized, experienced, business minded and analytical. I was and am, a dreamer. I listen to the Boss and do that. That's the end of my unique abilities but the point was that we had never met before and yet we were the perfect match. We went out to dinner the next night and as we sat around the table with our wives we dreamed big dreams and each of us committed to laying down our lives for the sake of getting the Gospel to the people of Gondor. These were not oaths taken lightly. We had just heard that a deacon in a foreign church there was killed with his entire family- 9 children- by Islamic Fundamentalists. I later found out that only the man was killed and not his children but with what information we had we accepted the challenge knowing the costs. I was the team leader and Boromir was the business manager. I was proud to work with such a fine man and his equally talented and committed wife.

We went through orientation together and then went to Rohan. The plan was for us to live in Rohan for a year learning language and then figure out how to get to Gondor. We enjoyed having house church together, learning the new city together, praying and planning together. It became apparent right away that Boromir was very competent and even in a new culture with a new language this guy could get stuff done. After a year I started working on getting to Gondor. I made many trips and began to work out the details of how we would get there, what aid work we could do there, what organization we could work with, where we should live etc. Boromir never went with me. At first it seemed that he was just too busy but over time I realized he had worked hard in Rohan and he was invested there. He was not going to move. In February of 1997 he announced that he was staying to support the team in Rohan. His wife agreed to the decision feeling that God was definitely calling them to stay. I was really disappointed. Not devastated, but really disappointed.

Boromir had always been a fill in all the boxes kind of guy. He was meticulous. I considered him to be borderline legalistic in fact. Everything had to be done the 'right' way and believe me this was not easy to do in a former Soviet Republic. I remember the time he charted the steps we had to take to get a package from the post office in the Capitol city Edoras. It had 18 steps which invariably changed from week to week. Only a guy like Boromir could keep up with that! We left for Gondor in the summer of 1997. Boromir came to visit that fall- the only time he came to Gondor. It was a difficult time for us. The city was a mess as factions continued to fight even though the civil war was over. The aid agency that we were with had a serious breakdown and some good friends were wrongfully fired. A couple from another agency was kidnapped. And to top it all off my wife, Arwen, had a miscarriage that weekend. Boromir was encouraging and his approval of how we were handling such a stressful situation meant much to me. I loved and respected that man.

After he left I did not hear from him often. I saw him one more time the next Spring at a company meeting. He was doing well. The work was going well, if slow. The Government was not getting any easier to deal with. Then a few months later I got word that he was missing. We prayed for him. He was found in Edoras.... with another woman. He confessed to the team there and his wife that he had had prostitutes but then had found this woman. He was going to leave his wife and marry her. This was beyond unbelievable. My first thought when I heard that he had had an affair was that he was so legalistic he would never forgive himself. He may do something drastic. I called him and told him I was praying for him. He never admitted anything to me. But later I found out I was concerned for naught. Boromir was completely unashamed of what he had done. His wife went back to the West by herself and was forced to go through the divorce by herself. Boromir did marry the woman and spent several more years in Rohan before finally bringing his new wife back to the West. I have never seen or heard from him again.

This is a tough story for me. I loved Boromir and consider that he was a better man than I. But he fell- and fell far. How? There are a couple of reasons that I can see. One, legalistic people are often wound too tight. Several who know this story say they were not surprised that the strict guy was the one to fall. Colosians 2 has an interesting phrase in the King James Version where it uses 'will-worship'. Legalism is all about making our own righteousness- or worshipping our own will-power. As every religion on earth has abundantly proven this does not work. Will-worship never leads to purity. We can not save ourselves. Second, we are in a real spiritual battle. We are taking the Gospel where it has never been before. The enemy is fighting like crazy to stop this. Boromir was a casualty of this battle. Dr. Johnny Hunt is a pastor whom I had the privilege to hear speak once and he said that he prays, 'Lord, keep me close and keep me clean' everyday. I pray that too. In fact, I will ask you right now to pray it for me as well.

The cool part of this story is the way our organization took care of Boromir's wife. Once she resigned they hired her on in the home office where she still works. I saw her this summer and her healing is an on-going reality. She is being used- too often- to help those who are in her position, to comfort those who need it with the comfort she herself was comforted with. I love that about our Organization. I love that about our Lord as well. I don't know why Boromir fell and I have not except that I stand in the grace of my Lord who is able to make even me to stand. You can rest in that.... in fear and trembling and no small amount of humility.

Friday, November 14, 2008

There was a Crooked Man who Walked a Crooked Road

As many of you know my time and energy have been taken up by the wonderful folks at the Gondor Ministry of Injustice. They came into our office in Minas Tirith and claimed we were breaking the law and threatened to throw us out of the country- a threat we took seriously since they had just thrown out another aid agency. My first thought was, 'Oh no Briar Bear, don't throw me in the briar patch!' Hey, do I want to spend another miserable cold winter in Gondor? Do I want to continue to beat my head against the wall that is Middle Earth? My wife and Legolas' wife began thinking of other places we could serve. Nice places. Places that had relatively clean running water and perhaps an actual economy. Of course, I also thought of the many folks who depend on us. We have three teams outside of Minas Tirith accessing the lost villages of Gondor for the first time. I was torn.

The news got worse. The Minister needed lots of money and we were going to pay it. We refused. Now, don't get me wrong. I have paid extortion before. It is the way of things, but there is a difference between understanding how a strange system works and being bullied by a thug. You can't do business with a thug and the Minister was looking quite thugish. We counter offered. We said we would do a good project for poor people in a village of his choosing. He thought that was a great idea. Yes, we could do that in addition to giving him $10,000. We said no. We began to think seriously about leaving Gondor. We began to make contingencies for the other team members. How could they stay? Could they switch to other agencies? Could they register seperately? We began looking into this. Then the Minister came down to $5000. We said no. I didn't trust this guy and I don't like being bullied.

Finaly, I had the conversation that I should have had from the beginning. I talked to the Boss.
Me- What do you want me to do?
Boss- You can go somewhere else if you want to.
Me- Yeah, but what do you want me to do?
Boss- There are lots of places you can go. Needy places.
Me- Yeah, but what do YOU want me to do.
Boss- I gave you the authority to reach the villages of Gondor.
Me- Ahh... right. So, I should stay?
Me- I take it that you want me in Gondor? Right, well you keep me here and I will stay here. I don't quit.

So, here I am. On Monday I got a call. They came down to $3000. I pushed the button and said, 'Yes, Howie I am taking the deal.' Two scriptures came to me right then. The first was Matthew 6 where Jesus says if someone takes your coat give him your cloak as well. The second where Peter asked Jesus about the Temple tax. Jesus tells Peter to pay the unjust tax by going fishing and giving the coin found in the fish's mouth. Very strange. The point I suppose is that Jesus wants us to go and make disciples. He will deal with corrupt Governments, that is not our job. We pay the authorities what they ask and we move on knowing that God Himself will provide. Really- and this is the hard thing for me- it is just pride that cries out against us losing our stuff. It's just stuff. He's got more and better. Today I went fishing and a guy gave me $3000. He told me he would be happy to be a fish. I am quite certain we underestimate how good and gracious and loving our God is. I will just say it this way, whatever you think He is, He's more. I will leave for Gondor on December 1st with my family and we look forward to seeing what our God has in store for the people of Gondor.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Falling In and Out of Love

I have been wanting to tell this story for some time now. It indirectly relates to the Calvinism posts I have had up but mostly it is about a love story that went terribly wrong.

When I first came to Middle Earth I met a guy who had worked in another country for 15 years. He told me one day that he got a letter from a national friend in that country that really broke his heart. His friend who had worked with him for 15 years, helped him lead folks to Jesus, helped him plant Churches, prayed with him daily, and had shared so many of his joys and sorrows had given up on Jesus and gone back to Islam. I didn't know what to say. How do you make sense of that? I prayed that this would never happen to me. The truth is that everyone who stays out on the field lives to see a story like this. It is one of the more painful things that any christian worker will experience.

One day a young man came to the gate of one of our Doctors. Doc answered the door and was surprised to find a young man of Gondor asking if there was a follower of Jesus that lived here. He told Doc that he had become interested in Jesus through some stories from a friend and wanted to learn more. Doc suspected some sort of trap at first. Who was this young man who spoke good English? Why was he really there? They began studying the Word together a couple of times a week. After a couple of months the young man, I will call him Grima, insisted on praying and receiving Jesus as his Lord and Savior. It was an exciting time. They continued to study together and young Grima grew in his faith. Balin started a prison ministry about that time and Grima joined him with two other men. The four of them began feeding sick prisoners, sharing their faith boldly, and praying with sick and desperate men and women. Grima grew greatly in his faith. He shared well but did not really enjoy evangelism the way Balin did. Grima liked to follow up with men who had made decisions. He had Book studies with eager convicts who would gather in the prisons and discuss the Word of Life.

Later we had openings in our aid agency and Grima began to help out. He helped us support the new team down in Mordor and twice he made trips to Mordor himself. The first time he passed out Bibles indiscriminately and got the team there in trouble. The second trip he was more careful and was even able to meet with some secret believers and encourage them greatly. This all happened over a four year time span during which Grima grew in faith and knowledge. We were thankful to have him working with us.

One day I became aware that there was some tension in the office. I asked around and found out that Grima had been really prideful in front of the Muslim workers on our staff. I confronted him and he apologized but I saw something in him that I had not noticed before. Grima was really a very prideful young man. I told Doc about this and he promised to follow up on this in their discipleship meetings. A month later Grima went back to his village in the mountains. He had not been back since he became a Christian- I did not realize this- and he was concerned with how his parents would react to him. We prayed for him and a few weeks later he came back. He could not bear to face the shame of his parents upon hearing that he had become a Christian. They were very angry so he renounced Christ and declared himself a Muslim again.

In addition to this he quit his job with us and joined a non-christian aid agency. He went back to the Church that he had been a part of and convinced a young lady that he was interested in to renounce Christ so they could get married. She did but later they could not get married because the parents would not bless the wedding. I never understood why not but they didn't. I still see Grima now and again. Sometimes he comes by the office just to hang out. He says that life is miserable now. He hates himself but refuses to change. He has no peace and comes by the office sometimes to remember what it was like when he had peace and worked with gracious people. Honestly, it is hard for me to look at him as his very face is a picture of contorted pain and confusion. He becomes quite angry at any suggestion that he did the wrong thing. As far as he is concerned this was the only path for him and if it is an unhappy path then that is God's will. The bottom line for him is that he could not dishonor his father and mother.

So, after my horrific story are you ready for some good news? The good news is what all this teaches me about the Gospel. Most of us really don't understand the Gospel if we are honest. We believe it, sure but we don't understand it. We try and boil it down into some kind of propositional truth- just believe A, B, and C and you will be fine and go to heaven when you die. But then a story like this comes along and we don't know what to do with it. Jesus teaches us better. Believing propositional truth does not save you. Knowing what is right does not save you. Doing what is right does not save you. Salvation is loving and being loved by God. It is a love story from start to finish. Grima knew as much and more about the Bible as you do- and he believed it to be true- but that did not save him, and make no mistake he is not saved. Grima is not going to Hell, he is there already. I can see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice. His hopelessness is palpable and it breaks my heart.

I knew my wife over a year before I loved her. I worked with her in the University cafeteria. She was cute but I did not love her. I was not that interested in her really. Then one day I understood she was interested in me. We talked- exchanged some propositional truth like, 'we both wanted to go into missions' and stuff like that. Then one day I looked at her and nothing was the same. I didn't want to do anything but look at her. I would do anything for her and once we were married I discovered just what that would mean. I was no longer my own man. It is like this- but much more so- with Christ. We learn about Him. Know some truths about Him but we are not truly His until one day when we fall in love with Him completely. We give our lives to Him in ways that take the rest of our lives to understand. Jesus says it this way, 'Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.' Luke 14:26. You can't 'choose' that. Grima couldn't choose to reject his family. No, love is more than a choice. It is a mystery that takes us and takes over. Poets have written about this for as long as there have been poets writing but none of them capture completely what it means to be in love. And that is what we are. We are in love with the one who loves us more than His own son's life. Let us love passionately, unreservedly, and more deeply than ever before. Look to our great lover and BE loved. And in this great love be changed to be a lover who will never shrink back, hold back, or hold out. The Bible is full of propositional truth about who God is and what he wants from us but mostly it is a love story sung over us by our Great Lover. Rest in that and find the peace that Grima threw away. The old Baptist were right when they said, 'Faith that fails before the finish was faulty from the first.' Grima knew truths about God but could not love Him more than his own family. We must be more than this. Look to Jesus and see the love in Him and be changed by that vision of love forever. Let others see Jesus in you and in turn they too will be changed.

Monday, November 03, 2008

I Have Had Enough!

I am fed up with the election rhetoric here in the US so I need to write just one post about it to get it off my chest. I have read blogs, e-mails, seen Youtube Videos, and had countless conversations about the Presidential Candidates and I am just about ready to punch the wall. Why? Because of the anger, hopelessness, and downright hatred coming from too many followers of Jesus. I am hearing things like, "America is finished." "America is under God's judgement." "All is lost." And why am I hearing this? Because the Republican Candidate looks like he wont win. Barak Obama is being vilified in the most disgusting ways imaginable by people who claim to be followers of our Lord. Well, here's my take on this and let's start at the beginning- or at least with our current President.

I voted for President Bush in the 2000 election. I have always been a Republican and I firmly believe in that form of Government. After the 2001 bombings I believed that I was justified in my decision. I believed that George Bush led well and I saw the hand of God at work as a worldwide coalition rallied behind us and went after Osama and the Taliban. But then Bush went after Saddam Hussein who had nothing to do with 9/11. I was confused and disappointed. The rhetoric spiraled out of control and we left the hunt for Osama behind. I remember arguing about this with friends in 2002 and the Spring of 2003. They couldn't understand why I didn't see that Saddam had to be taken out right now. After all he had used chemical weapons in 1989- 14 years before! But the war was not all. Then George Bush set up Guntanamo Bay Prison. I am sure that most Americans don't care about it. That is why Bush set it up in Cuba. Cuba is supposed to have illegal detentions with no charges and no trials and no human rights. We were supposed to be treating these guys like prisoners of war- except we couldn't- and we were supposed to develop a legal means of dealing with them- which we still haven't. We tortured the prisoners there which we have never done before. We have always been the good guys calling the rest of the world to behave better and live freer. With Bush's second inaugural address he declared war on the rest of the world. He openly said that if people would rise up against their totalitarian governments the US would help them. The rest of the world saw that we were just the same as Saddam Hussein and they shook with fear and anger. We became everything we ever denounced, even sending other nation's citizens to Syria for them to torture for us. Condeleeza Rice taking the stand before Congress said it was a big mistake, 'The Syrians promised us they wouldn't torture them.' Unbelievable.

But wait! Is not President Bush against abortion? How many babies have been saved during his Presidency because of his brave stance? Any? I have not heard of even one. It has not been on his agenda as far as I have heard. It was on Ronald Reagan's agenda but he was unable to stop any abortions even though he spoke more eloquently against them than any politician I have heard since. So now we have Christian leaders everywhere saying this is the end of America because Barak Obama does not oppose abortion. Give me a break! America will not be judged based on one stance of her President. The Church will be judged on it's allegiance to Christ and His Kingdom. So, let me tell you where we stand on that. While we weep and wail over a Presidential Candidate who would not apparently make any difference in the abortion situation it is OUR daughters who are having abortions. OUR children are living lifestyles of selfishness, lust, and greed and the result is that OUR daughters need to get abortions. WE are the ones holding up a rock star's lifestyle as the ultimate goal and WE are the ones who are failing to teach our children to love and respect each other, to act responsibly, and oh yeah, just as an aside, to live for Jesus and His Kingdom.

I do think that abortion should be illegal. Roe V Wade is a horrific abuse of the Constitution which is supposed to protect life. In our democratic society I will vote as I can to make a difference. But as a good Republican I still believe in individual and community initiative. I believe that we live in the society we create. In spite of the fact that Roe v Wade is bad law not a single abortion has occurred because of it. Abortions occur because our daughters want to kill their children. The Supreme Court is not responsible for that!

We have two million people in jail in this country- more than despotic China- and every single one of them lived next door to a Christian who has made no difference in his or her life. A million abortions a year? They are not living next door, they are living under our roofs. And we want the next President to do something about this? Talk about intrusive big government liberalism! Teach your children to love Jesus. Share your love of Jesus with others. Reach out to your community with the love of Jesus. This will make a difference far greater than electing a Republican. Barak Obama is not the anti-Christ. For my money whoever wins this election America wins because Bush will no longer be in the White House. Many of you have heard so much fear mongering that you will not be able to read this without breaking out into an angry sweat. Trust in Jesus. Live for him and do not fear whoever leads America. America is not eternal, Christ's Kingdom is. Live for what is eternal. If we stop looking to Washington save our nation and put our lives and the lives of our families in Jesus hands that would be change we could believe in.