Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year

No New Year's resolutions here. Just wishing you all a happy New Year and trusting that you will draw nearer to our Lord, that you will find in Him all joy, and that your life will resound with His glory in 2010.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Paul Had It Easy In Corinth!

When we read through Corinthians in the New Testament we see that the Apostle Paul had some pretty serious issues to deal with. Gross sexual immorality, division, bad doctrine, and bad behavior seemed to define the young Church in Corinth. As Paul wrote to correct these things he crafted 1 Corinthians 13, the Love Chapter. It stands as one of the most beautiful things ever written and I think that Paul intended it to be the heart of his answer to the problems the Corinthians were facing. It was written almost 2000 years ago and yet we are so far from experiencing a 10th of what he described.

I was up in the north of Gondor last week teaching a class on Missiology for a local Bible College. A friend of mine whom I had worked with five years ago found out I was in town and took me out to eat one evening. It was great to see him. I asked him how he was and how his relationship with his church was. He had often been at odds with his church in the past and he was often in the wrong, so I wondered how he would answer me. He left his church about a month ago. I was not too sorry to hear about this as he described the church he was going to now. There are only five churches in all of the north of Gondor, so not too many to choose from! But why did he leave his first church?

About six weeks ago a broken, homeless, middle aged man came to the service. He had been there before. The church had tolerated his on-again off-again attendance for a few years. He was homeless for a reason, he had lots of issues. That Sunday he came forward to repent and asked to be baptized. The church voted on the baptism as was their custom. Every hand went up for 'no'. Every hand except that of my friend. He stood up and said, 'All of you who have taken so little effort to raise your hands for 'no', all of you who have such a strong opinion, how many of you visited this man over the last year as he was struggling?' No one had. 'I visited him several times. Ok, I should have done more, I didn't help enough but I tried to do something. I tried to encourage him some. Can you just send this man away now? Can we really throw out a man who has asked us for help?' The Pastor stood and asked that my friend leave. So my friend said, 'I am sorry for bothering you. Please forgive me if I have offended you but if you can, please help this man.' And then he walked out. I asked my friend what the objection to this man being baptized was. He said that every one knew he still dipped tobacco. Such an offense! Two days later the Pastor came to my friend and apologized. He said he should not have spoken to him rudely and thrown him out of the church. My friend said that he forgave him but now he was going to a different church.

I asked my friend if he thought this man was really ready to be baptized and he said, 'I don't know. I can't see into his heart but I know that he came for help. I know that he wanted to change.' He went on to explain something that touched me deeply. 'I can't say if this man was a truly repentant man who was ready to fully follow Christ. I do know that when I stand in Heaven before Jesus he will never say to me, 'You were too forgiving, too loving, too accepting.' He will never condemn us for welcoming and loving others but what will he say to us about any of His children that we might turn away?'

What indeed.

Paul had to contend with a lot in Corinth but I wonder if he would write such a grace filled letter to this church? I wonder if he would be so patient with us?
Maybe, Paul had it easy in Corinth after all.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Teaching a Bible College Class

Some friends of mine started a Bible college here to stop the bright and talented young believers from leaving to go to the US for Bible college never to return. I have been very supportive of this effort since I can either help do it right or complain about how someone else has done it wrong. That being said this has been a challenging week. I am teaching 40 hours of missiology this week to a class of 12. I will go up north and teach it again next week. This eight hours of teaching a day for five days is brutal but as I sit and drink a cup of coffee and prepare to start the next session I thought I would share with whoever is left reading this occasional blog a great chart given to me by my good friend Ted Sandyman.

Christian approaches to Muslims

If we see Muslims as …
Our approach will be …
Our heart attitude will be ..

If we see Muslims as …
Our approach will be …
Separate Coexistence
Our heart attitude will be ..

If we see Muslims as …
Poor, uncivilized, uncultured
Our approach will be …
Invite them to be like us (join us)
Our heart attitude will be ..

If we see Muslims as …
Our approach will be …
Polemic debate
Our heart attitude will be ..

If we see Muslims as …
Human beings
Our approach will be …
Respectful dialogue
Our heart attitude will be ..
listen and learn

If we see Muslims as …
Our approach will be …
resigned to do nothing
Our heart attitude will be ..

If we see Muslims as …
Lost people Jesus died for
Our approach will be …
Salt/light (demonstrate love)
Preach the Gospel (speak truth)
Pray for their needs (show power)
Become all things to all people (Pauline)
Our heart attitude will be ..

I like Ted's chart. Why not apply it to the people you meet today?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A Fireside Story

We have had several interesting experiences with fire and this fine Saturday I thought I would share one with you. You might consider this a new take on the term fiery trials.

Back in 1997 the civil war had just ended and the people of Gondor were in a fierce battle to see who would get a seat at the power sharing table. There was gunfire in the streets every night and many were assassinated or just burgled and killed. Usually the gunfire would pick up just after dark and continue until around midnight. Sometimes it went on until 2am but not usually later than that. One night I was awoken by a huge boom followed by a series of crackles that sounded like semi-automatic gun fire. I rolled over and noticed that it was 4am. I said out loud, 'Come on guys, go to bed!' Just then the phone rang. I then thought oh no! Is this something to do with one of our team! Sure enough it was Gimli who lived just two hundred yards up the hill from us. "Strider! Our neighbors house has just blown up. Can you get up here and help us get our stuff out of our house before it catches fire and burns down?" Gimli's house had an adjoining wall and roof with the house next door to him. I told him that it sounded like a lot of gunfire out there but I would try. I stuck my head of out our front gate and our street was quiet. I could see the fire raging up the hill with flames going up more than 50 feet in the air. I walked gingerly up the street. I know that 'gingerly' is not the right word- well, it is the right word but it was a silly thing to do! Anyway, I got to the corner and there was a guard outside a Red Cross house. I asked him what was going on and he said he didn't know. He had not seen anybody but it sure sounded bad up there. So, up there I went. When I got to Gimli's house I could see the problem. There was no gunfire. The fire was blazing so bad that the asbestos roofing sheets were exploding in loud crackling burst. I ran into Gimli's house and we started taking stuff out and putting it on a porch on the other side of the yard from the fire. I felt the adjoining wall with the house that was on fire. It was not hot at all. More than that the roof that ran as a single roof over to the neighbor's side was not burning. The fire stopped at the property line! We got everything out- including the extremely heavy 286 computer that I carried myself. To be fair Gimli told me to leave it. He was right, it wasn't worth it. But then the fire department came. I know I was surprised to see them. They negotiated with the neighbors for a price and then they put the fire out. Yes, you read that right. It turned out that the natural gas had spiked and their kitchen had blown up. The next day everyone exclaimed what a miracle it was that God saved Gimli's house. The fire was huge and hot and it had no effect on anything on Gimli's side. Gimli told the neighbors about Jesus and while no one came to faith right then it had to be a powerful witness. Gimli has never forgotten that I braved the seemingly dangerous streets to come and help him. Of course, I consider my most valiant effort that night to have been lifting that 286 computer.

Monday, November 16, 2009

When the Road Is Too Long

Last week we were invited to a wedding out in the Argonoth. The village there is about four hours away over a couple of small passes and then across a river. We have done a couple of projects out there and there are several people who have shown interest in listening to the truth. Arwen and I got the boys ready and we headed out about one in the afternoon so that we had plenty of time to get there by the six o'clock start time of the wedding. Only one problem, it rained. All day. When we got into the passes and over the main dam in Gondor there was roadwork that had turned into pure mud, landslides, stuck cars, tractors shoving earth every direction. It was a nightmare. One humorously frustrating thing happened. As we waited for a large landslide to be cleared out the cars behind us started passing us and forming a second lane, then a third, finally a fourth lane was formed waiting for the road to reopen. When the road did finally open we discovered that the cars on the other side had done the same. Two sets of four lanes of traffic converged and no one could get by anyone else. I thought it was pretty funny. Arwen made frustrated hand gestures to the cars trying to pass us on the inside. When it was all said and done we reached Osgilioth about six o'clock and it was dark. We still needed an hour and a half more to reach the Argonoth and there was no way I was going to try and cross that river in the dark in the rain. I had a friend who lived in Osgilioth who I owed a visit to anyway. We stopped by his house and it was dark. It turned out that there was no electricity but he and his family were all there and very happy to see us. We came in and sat down and they began to prepare to feed us. Several neighbors came over and we sat and talked all evening. I was getting frustrated though. I was looking for an opportunity to share truth and it just was not happening. My friend was in and out serving the guests and the guests were talking among themselves except when they wanted to hear a funny story or two from me. The chance to share a Biblical story was not coming and I was concerned that I was somehow missing a good opportunity.

Finally, the neighbors left. Arwen put the boys down in an adjoining room and my friend and I talked into the late night. I was still not really finding an opportunity to share spiritual truth. Then, at 11:30pm he shared some personal struggles he was having at work. He shared about struggles with his boss, ethical issues with his department. He wanted to quit but that would be a breach of contract from his side, making him look bad. Then, at nearly midnight I shared some stories of Jesus. Then just after midnight I shared truth about our Lord and encouraged him to trust in God. He listened and agreed with me. My friend has heard a lot of Gospel over the years and it had never really touched him before. Now, it seemed to resonate, 'I need God in my life.' He did not commit to Jesus right there but for the first time he wanted me to pray for him and he was determined to do it 'God's way' in his decisions at work. I was amazed. It may seem like a small step to some of you but it is the biggest step I have ever seen him make in ten years of knowing him.

We have a saying on our team that says that if you can't spend the night don't bother going. I don't always live by this but this story reminds me of the truth of it. When we spend the night with people we stay past the polite guest phase and hang around for the deep conversation phase of the day. The vast majority of decisions to follow Jesus come after 10 pm. At least, that is what I have heard from those who claim to know. If we are not staying late then we miss the chance to talk to people when they are finally ready to slow down enough to think deeply about life. Let us go and proclaim boldly the truth of God's love, and as long as we are going we should spend the night.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Of Traveling, Documents, and Stamps

I have not told of many of my travel adventures because they don't always have a devotional point. Some are funny and other stories are just incredible but I generally like to write things that glorify God. But then again I am wanting to get some of these stories down in written form so.... With acknowledgment of the fact that I could do nothing and go nowhere without God's guidance, strength, and protection here is one of my favorite traveling stories.

Back in 1996-7 I lived for a year and a half in Rohan before moving to Gondor. There was much to arrange and figure out. How do I get there? How will I get a visa? Where will I live? With whom will I work? All these needed answering before actually moving to Gondor so I made a lot of trips across the border in 1997. 19 to be exact and after years of therapy I will be much better, thanks for asking. There are various routes to get from Rohan to Gondor and I will simplify the story by describing the routes as follows. The Southern Route involved a 12 hour drive to a border guarded by a lot of young thugs. It was the time of the civil war and the Southern Border was dangerous. The Northern Border was the easiest to cross, the only problem was that I was in Southern Rohan wanting to go to Southern Gondor. North was easy, but way out of the way. The Middle Border was very tough. It was the closest to me and the shortest route to where I was going but the border guards were always tough and then there was the 12,000 foot pass to contend with once you crossed. The Middle Route could be crossed and Minas Tirith reached in as little as six to eight hours if all went well- it only ever went that well once but it did happen! Anyway, so after a long introduction here we are, me going over the pass to Minas Tirith and spending a very nice week in the big city working out housing plans etc. I heard that there was an in-country flight from Capitol of Minas Tirith to the Gap of Rohan- right next to the Middle Border and only an hour away from my home in Rohan. Too good to be true. But even though the flight was infrequent it was going this week so I got a ticket and boarded the plane. It was a little 17 seater with two prop engines and it looked very old so I took a picture of it before I boarded. The pilot saw me take a picture and noticed that I had a decent 35mm camera and he invited me up to the cockpit as soon as we took off. I half stood, half crouched in the doorway of the cockpit for the whole forty-five minute flight. He would veer over to the left and say, 'Look, there is a beautiful mountain lake. Take a picture!' Then he would veer over to the right and he would say, 'Look, there is the mountain pass that the cars go over. Take a picture!' Back and forth over the beautiful mountains of Gondor we traveled. As we approached the airport I took a final picture of the town and the runway and then told him I needed to sit down and fasten my seatbelt. The pilot was puzzled by this. Why? When I did sit down I noticed a couple of things. One, I was the only one on the plane with my seatbelt on, including the pilots. And two, someone had thrown up in the middle of the aisle, probably a result of our veering back and forth over the mountains so I could get my pictures.

When we landed I was stopped at the gate of the airport and told that since I was a foreigner I had to register- even though this was an in-country flight. No big deal. I registered and then started to leave. A soldier came over and told me that I could not leave yet. The Security Forces guy wanted to talk to me. I waited around. Finally, as the last taxi in the parking lot was leaving I ran out and got in. As we began to leave the soldier stopped us and said I could not leave until I talked to the Security Forces guy. He had the gun so I got out and watched the last taxi drive away. This annoyed me so I was not in a very agreeable mood when the Security Forces guy finally got around to talking to me. He searched though my bag. Twice. Three times. He asked me a lot of questions and then he would leave for a while, then come back and asked some more. I was starting to get really fed up when the soldier said, 'Look, he just wants some money. Give him a little money and he will let you go.' That did it. I was determined now. I had saved eight hours by not having to drive and if this guy wanted to hang out with me all day then that was just what we were going to do. The old traveling rule was, 'If you have time you don't need money.' So, I smiled, I talked. I was patient and I told him that there was no way he was getting my money. A funny thing happened at that point. He found a $100 bill and said, 'Oh!' as if this was a big deal. I told him it was my money and it was no big deal. He said that since I was going to Rohan I had to have a certificate for the money. Now, at that time Rohan used these currency declarations but Gondor did not. I told him that I would get one when I got to the border. For a man looking for any excuse to harrass someone this was not good enough. I found an old certificate that I had but interestingly, it had no stamp. In this part of the world a document without a stamp is no document at all. Well, we went round and round about this and then went to his Security Headquarters where we went round and round about this for an hour and a half more. Finally, when he realized I would not give him anything and he was thoroughly fed up with me he put a stamp on my Rohan Certificate and let me go. I walked into town found a taxi and went to the border to go home. Once at the border the usual gang searched my bag again. As they searched and harassed me- they were never nice at the Middle Border- I noticed that my camera was gone. It was a large, 35mm Pentax in a black bag about the size of a loaf of bread. It was not in my bag. I told the guys that that Security Guy must have stolen it. They actually felt sorry for me and let me go. I went home and tossed my bag on the bed and told my wife what happened. Then I went and unpacked my bag and there was the camera! It was a miracle but what kind of miracle was it? Were the guards and myself at the border blinded from seeing it or is the Security Guy wondering what happened to the camera he stole? I don't know.

Two weeks later I was back in Minas Tirith. There was no flight to the Gap of Rohan so I took a taxi to the Southern Border Crossing. At that time there were around 30 to 40 armed thugs with a bad attitude waiting to harass anyone wanting to cross. I got out of the taxi and was surrounded by these guys- mostly young kids in their late teens. They took my passport and handed it around and then they asked if I had any dollars. I replied that I had $200 on me at the time. They told me I had to give it to them and I refused. They said I had to have a Certificate for the money. I told them that Gondor didn't use these Certificates but they replied that that was not their problem. If I did not have a Certificate then I had to give up my money. Just then I remembered that I had the same bag as I had had two weeks previously. I took out the old Certificate from my bag and said, 'Look, I have a Certificate for the money!' They said, 'No, that is a Rohan Certificate. You need a Certificate from Gondor.' I told them to look at the stamp. When they looked at the stamp that the Security Guy had stamped my document with two weeks before they broke out laughing. The stamp clearly said 'Gondor' on it! They called their Commanding Officer over and told him I had beaten them at their own game. They let me go and I said a quiet 'thank you' to God for the way he guided me through the weird wild circumstances that is Middle Earth.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Avoiding Fear in the Midst of Turbulent Times

Our office administrator needs prayer. She is really struggling with a difficult family situation and she is running out of options. She is a 25 year old single woman who has been a follower of Jesus for over five years. She has worked in our office since February this year and she is very beautiful, intelligent, and spiritual. Why we can't find any Christian young men for her is beyond me. One of her Church elders has tried all year without success. Now her parents have decided that she needs to be taught a lesson and the best way to straighten her out is to marry her off to the most difficult Muslim man they can find. In case you thought your life was tough in any way let me give you a window on hers. She comes home every night to her family who tells her that it is painful for them to look at her. They yell at her and demean her as much as they can because they hate her faith in Jesus. She goes into her room with her cat and shuts the door every evening because she is not welcome to sit with the family. Every month she gives them her whole paycheck and she obeys them in everything they tell her to do- even when they forbid her to go and meet with believers on Sundays, which they do frequently. I met with her the other day and she was really discouraged and on the verge of panic. She had had a horrific fight with her Mom who said that she must marry this latest Muslim guy. She met with the guy and he told her she would have to quit work, renounce her faith, and stay at home. He told her to 'say goodbye to your western clothes and your friends'. Like all young girls in the city she wears western style dresses but there is a move towards a much more radical Islamic society here. The Government is fighting it but losing. Anyway, in response to her desperate situation I was reminded of a story. I will tell you what I told her.

We met Elanor over ten years ago. She was a translator on a medical project for our aid agency. She worked with a woman doctor from the West for a couple of years. During that time she became a follower of Jesus. Her parents did not know it and she kept her faith a secret for a long time. I don't remember how they found out but when they did it was bad. We did not know that they did not know about her faith. If we knew the situation we would have counseled her differently because I hate the secret believer situation and we have always worked against it. Elanor's father was a diabetic and had some serious complications as a result. The Western doctor gave him free medical care for a year but it did not help the situation. They took Elanor and locked her in her room. Her father would come home everyday from work and beat her pretty severely. Then her grandfather would read her the Koran every night. They took away her Bible, they forbid her to meet with her friends, they never let her out. This went on for months. She had one girlfriend who would sneak up to her outside window and talk, pray, and encourage her. She was even able to smuggle in a Bible but it was later found. That had really terrible consequences as you can imagine. Elanor has one of the most beautiful smiles you have ever seen. She literally radiates joy and light. This drove her family crazy. Literally. As the beatings and the harassment went on she became more and more despondent. One day, as she was crying after a particularly bad beating she called out to God and asked where He was in all of this. "Why can't I hear you anymore? Where are you, God?" Just then she heard a voice in the room. An audible voice that said in her native language of Rohan (Yes, God speaks Rohan apparently!), "It is because of your fear that you can not hear me. Fear drowns out my voice." She dedicated herself to trusting Him entirely after that. She needed to because after that the beatings grew worse and the threats to kill her increased and became much more credible. Finally, she escaped and stayed hidden in the village of her friend for three months. When she came back her mother was very grateful to have her return and said there would be no more beatings and no more discussion of her faith if only she would stay. They honored that and she lived with them for a time. Then she went to the West and did a year in a Bible College. I hate it when this happens because very often people don't come back and if they do they have a Western expression of the faith that makes no sense to their home country. Elanor did come back and immediately realized the barriers she would have to overcome. She has overcome them and now she dresses very traditionally and expresses her faith in a very culturally appropriate way. She married a very fine young man who is a sincere follower of Jesus. He probably has as beautiful smile as she does. They work together in a village to the south and the way they radiate Jesus is one of the most beautiful things I have seen in Middle Earth.

But for our office administrator we are at the beginning of this story. She has a long road ahead and many trials. The same Jesus who was with Elanor is with her and I am confident that His glory will be made known in wonderful ways in this situation.... as long as fear is silenced.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Walking by Faith with the One Who is Faithful

This is going to be a complicated post with two major parts. Sorry, but I have a good story to tell and some issues to get off my chest. Let's start with the story.
Our local accountant had a premature baby last week. The little lady is just short of 3 pounds and is in an incubator in Hospital Number One. Arwen and I went to see her the other day and had a nice visit. Coming down the stairs from the fourth floor (why do they make pregnant women walk to the fourth floor?) I was reminded of Arwen's second miscarriage in 1997. It was a difficult time for a lot of reasons. In 1997 Minas Tirith was reeling from the end of the civil war. Warlords vied for control with armed gangs of men harassing everyone in sight. In November of 1997 a small gang took a Western couple hostage and eventually the lady was killed in a rescue attempt. Our NGO that was run by another agency at the time was in an uproar with broken relationships everywhere and lots of conflict. The Country of Gondor had nothing and was on the verge of being a failed state. Our team was working hard to help people and share Jesus with all who would listen. It was then that we got word that my supervisor was coming to visit. We were sure he would make us evacuate. We tried to make contingency plans to demonstrate that we were being careful. We varied our routes and times as we traveled and I walked around my car to inspect it before getting into it every time I went some where. Having said that we were never afraid and we went places that in hind sight was probably quite dangerous. Arwen was 14 weeks pregnant when my boss was due to arrive. The day before he came she began bleeding. Then she miscarried. She still cooked for us. There was a lady doctor from the West working with our NGO and she took Arwen to Hospital Number One for a D and C. The local medical system was totally nonfunctional but the doctor was able to get some things together and we took Arwen the to Hospital and walked her to the fourth floor. She had a shot of something to deaden pain and make her sleepy. She had the D and C and then, since it was November and it was darn cold outside and inside we took her home. As she started down the stairs I helped her and I said, 'Are you ok, are you still drugged?' She said she was fine. Then she collapsed and very fortunately I caught her. I picked her up in my arms and carried her the rest of the way down the stairs. When we reached the lobby there were ten chairs and more than 20 people there. I stood with Arwen semi-conscious in my arms. I told the doctor to get her car and pull it around front and I would wait here out of the rain. I was concerned that I would have to stand but when I turned back around the room was empty. Those folks did not know what was wrong with that foreign woman and they didn't want to know! I sat down in one of the many empty seats and waited for the car. The other day I told Arwen that I would write up this story but I didn't really have a spiritual point to make. She was quite surprised. She said, 'What are talking about? God provided everything we needed right when we needed it. Gondor was a mess and had nothing and yet when we needed it we had a doctor, and medicine, and support from good friends.' Well, of course she is right. God did all that and more. He always does.

So, on to my rant. A guy came to me the other day from Mordor. He said he needed help to get to the West. I asked him his story and this is what he told me.
"I am a family practice doctor from Mordor. I work with a couple of foreign doctors and I am now a believer. Only my wife knows this and I think my father a little bit. Last week my father found my Bible. He accused me of being a Christian but I denied it and said no, a lot of people want to read this book. He said no, you are a Christian I think. So, I went to the Gondor consulate that day and told them I had to leave immediately, could they get me a visa. They said no, but some guys outside the consulate sold me a visa for $800. Now my family- wife and two children- are here. We have registered with the Gondor Officials and now we have no money left. I can not get work here legally and I don't know what to do."
I asked him, 'Did anyone threaten you? I don't understand, didn't your father help you leave?' No, no one threatened him but being a known believer is a big problem in Mordor. He had to leave. I suggested that he return and he was terrified of the idea. That was out of the question.

Now, let me be clear here. I have no sympathy for this guy. Maybe I should but I don't. If you want to tell me that you are afraid ok. But if you start to tell me that the situation is hopeless I have a big problem with that. Mordor, this situation- and your situation- are not bigger than God. Is life tough? You bet it is. Can I promise that man that if he has faith then no harm will come to him or his family? Nope, I can't and I won't. But our God is faithful. He will walk through even the Valley of Shadow of Death with us. He has walked there with me more than once. Running away is not the answer to anything. Recently a friend of mine asked me what he should do in a very difficult situation and I told him. 'I don't know what you should do but the answer lies with faith. Whatever takes more faith is what pleases God and so I think you should do whatever it takes you more faith to do.' Dangerous advice perhaps but it is based not on our ability to see, understand, or act. It is based on God who is faithful. Any act of faithlessness on our part is not an indictment of our own weakness it is an accusation. When we fail to act because of faithlessness we are accusing God of being smaller than our problems and faithless to act. He is not small or faithless. Stand and see His salvation.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Arwen On Joy

Most husbands, if they have any sense at all brag on their wives occasionally. I don't do this near as much as Arwen deserves so today I am posting a paper she wrote recently that surprised me. A friend of ours asked her to give advice to some struggling folks about finding joy. Rather than a three sentence e-mail reply about having hobbies or getting enough exercise this is what Arwen wrote.

Keeping Joy Alive

Before thinking about how to keep joy alive, I decided that I had better look up the definition of the word joy. Paul tells us in 1 Thess 5:16 to be joyful always, and follows with the equally challenging command – pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances.

From Webster:
Joy – 1. a very glad feeling; happiness, great pleasure, delight 2. anything causing such feeling 3. the expression or showing of such feeling.

Enjoy – 1. to have or experience with joy; get pleasure from; relish

Enjoy oneself – to have a good time; have pleasure

Rejoice – to be glad, happy or delighted; be full of joy

What gives joy?
Here are some things that bring joy according to Scripture:
1. The Lord and His presence. Ps4:7 “You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound.” See also Ps 28:7, Ps 21:6
2. Ps 19:8 “The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart.”
3. Our children. Prov 23:24,25 and Prov 27:11
4. Seeing justice done. Prov 21:15
5. People being healed and evil spirits being driven out. Acts 4:8
6. Coming to faith. Acts 16:34 (the jailer)
7. Salvation. 1 Peter 1:8,9 “…you are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” See also Luke 10:20
8. Finding others walking in the truth. 2 John 4
9. Being with other believers. 1 John 12
10. Other believers. I Thess 2:19,20; I Thess 3:9
11. When we know that people know about Jesus. I John 1:4
12. Being in the right place. The Israelites “joy was complete” when they returned from exile. Neh 8:17
13. A cheerful look from others. Prov 15:30
14. When others are concerned about us. 2 Cor 7:7
15. The love of friends. 2 Tim 1:4; Philemon 7
16. Perfume and incense Prov 27:9

There are many other references to joy in the Scriptures, not to mention all the references about rejoicing.

My thoughts about things that bring joy
Prov 21:15 says that “when justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous…” When I read that I recognized that the opposite of that is also true, that when injustice is done it brings heartache. In this country we see a lot of injustice. People are treated unfairly and wrongly accused every day. For me, that is one thing that makes living here so difficult. I see people being treated unjustly and there is nothing that I can do about it.
We can see what other things steal our joy by looking at the opposites of other verses. For example not being in the Lord’s presence, not being with other believers, and not receiving cheerful looks can bring us down. There are so many things that can steal our joy. When we live in places that are unjust, or where we don’t receive cheerful looks or when there are no other believers then I think we have to focus on other things that can bring joy.
The presence of the Lord gives us joy. That is something that other people can’t take away from us. We cannot flee from the presence of the Lord. (See Psalm 139) Psalm 118: 24 says “This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Every day we can start the day by rejoicing that the Lord has made another day and we have been given another day of life. When I feel down I like to put on some praise music and turn the volume up. Also finding some quiet time to read my Bible or a devotional when the kids are busy doing other things can lift my spirits.
We can rejoice when we hear about others coming to faith. I used to get very discouraged when other team members were able to spend more time out building relationships while I was at home taking care of kids and schooling them. For years, when people asked me how they could pray for me I asked that I would be able to prioritize the way God wanted me too. I always felt that I should be doing more. Over the years I have learned that being at home with my children was an important role for me at this time in my life. Now that our youngest is almost 5 and we no longer have babies or toddlers I am looking forward to going out more with my husband to villages and to see the work and have opportunities to share with ladies. The concept of team is so important in keeping our joy. I can rejoice because others on our team have been able to start churches. I can also rejoice when our local co-workers and friends share about people giving their hearts to Jesus. It is easy to get discouraged when we don’t see the fruit of our labor, or when we hear about how many are coming to faith in other parts of the world. But this is just one way that Satan works against us. When we hear of things happening in other countries or in other cities in our countries, or even amongst other teams in our city, our response should be to be joyful. It is all the Lord’s work. We may not see the results of our work here on earth, but our reward is in heaven. When we get those “really cool stories” in the e-mail we should rejoice with our friends that they are seeing some fruit.
Children are a joy and a gift from the Lord. Seeing them grow and learn brings us joy. We need to enjoy the time that we get to spend with them. Wise children also bring joy. It is important for us to teach our children how to be wise. Teaching our children is important and we should not feel like we are failing if we spend a lot of time investing in our children.
Another thought about children - it is hard for us when we see that our children are not happy. Where we live there are very few English speaking kids. We have seen that many kids who come here when they are young are able to make local friends. But these friendships are usually harder to maintain during the teenage years. For one thing, the level of language needed to communicate is higher, but more than that, our kids just don’t have the same interests. Our kids have more knowledge because of their opportunity to travel and because of the things that they learn in school, and the local kids don’t have the same base of knowledge. We have seen many families (especially from other organizations) leave the field when their kids hit the teenage years because they see the need for their teens to be with other teens. We have learned (or maybe we are still trying to learn) not to be judgmental when we see the decisions that others make concerning their teens. Each family is different and there is not a magical formula that will work for all families. What we did is to send our teenagers to boarding school. Although it is difficult for us not seeing our children every day, we rejoice that they are getting the education and social skills that are necessary for them. So, I feel joyful when I know that my kids are joyful.
And, also on the subject of family, a good relationship with our spouse can, and should, bring us joy. We need to make sure that we keep this relationship healthy and take time for each other. We can encourage each other during the days when we don’t feel so joyful. I rejoice that I have a good relationship with my husband. We have fun together and enjoy being together.
Being with other believers gives us joy. We make sure to schedule time just to have fun with other international (i.e. not local) believers. We get together every two weeks on a Friday night to have dinner and play games with another American family that are our good friends. Additionally, we meet for worship with other foreigners and for prayer with our team. We like to have people over for dinner and make a point to have the families of the other English-speaking kids over often. I don’t think this takes away from our relationships with the nationals; it gives us the balance that we need and helps us to maintain our joy so that we have more energy for our national friends. Just like with our teenagers, our national friends don’t usually enjoy the same things that we do, for example, they don’t play games. When we are with other foreigners that understand us better we can receive those joyful looks and feel the love and encouragement that bring us joy.
Being with national believers also gives us joy. We love those opportunities when we can visit a local church, do Bible studies, have local believers over for dinner or visit in their homes. I can’t say it better than Paul does to the Thessalonians. “For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy…How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?”

Other thoughts
“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Gal 5:22,23 Also, in I Thess 1:6, Paul says to the Thessalonians, “You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.” We can receive joy from the Holy Spirit. Just as we can pray for more patience or love, we can also pray for more joy.
James tells us to “consider it pure joy …whenever you face trials”. (James 1:2) Not just joy, but pure joy! It certainly is not easy to feel joyful when we are faced with trials. But why should we consider it joy? In the following verses we get the answer – we will be mature and complete. In times when it is hard to feel joyful because there are too many trials, maybe we need to focus on the future and rejoice that we are being made into a better person through it all – mature and complete.

Thanks Arwen.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

A Brief Tribute to Dr. Jerry Rankin

The good folks over at SBCImpact have asked me to write for them from time to time which I consider an honor. I wrote this for them a couple of weeks ago and since I have been slow to post anything new here I will repost this for the benefit of those who did not see it on SBC Impact. I have several good stories to tell and hopefully will get time to write them down soon. In the meantime here is my tribute to Dr. Jerry Rankin who recently announced his plans for retirement as my boss.

Dr. Jerry Rankin has announced that he is retiring as the President of the International Mission Board as of July of 2010. I will tell you right up front that I am a big fan of Dr. Rankin. I was a pastor in West Virginia when Dr. Parks resigned. I was very concerned that the mission that Southern Baptists were on was going to be sidelined. We needed a peacemaker who could come in and assure everyone that the then FMB was going to be both conservative and effective. From the first vote there was controversy, but I believed then and have believed ever since that Jerry Rankin was the man God had for this position for this time.

Now, history according to Strider is a little different than history according to… well, everyone else. So, here is a part of the story you may not have heard that defines what I love about the Rankins. Keith Parks had a passionate vision to get to the unreached of the world. Missiologists had talked for a century or more about the need to get the Gospel where it had never been heard before but done little. Dr. Parks worked hard to realign our resources to get where we had never been before. But he was a bull in a china shop and the constant fighting with Trustees and everyone else made him less effective than he should have been. Maybe that is not fair, I am not his judge. I just know that when Dr. Rankin took over the FMB was split into two odd shaped entities. Traditional mission stations still flourished in a few dozen countries- though the vast majority of our resources were in Brazil, Kenya, and Nigeria. Then there was CSI. Cooperative Services International was developed by Brit Towery to reach into Communist China. It was appropriated against his will to become what was then described as the ‘humanitarian arm of the Southern Baptist Convention.’ CSI became a platform to get Christian workers to all kinds of countries that would not allow traditional missionaries with traditional missionary visas to go. It was new and it was exciting and it grew like crazy under the leadership of some of the most remarkable men of faith I have ever known. Within a few years it had three regions spanning the length of the 10/40 window. It had a linear organizational structure and it moved fast and efficiently when opportunities arose to get personnel into formerly ‘closed’ countries.

There were lots of problems with all of this but the relavant one to list here is that Dr. Rankin hated it. CSI was like an estranged relative in the FMB family. Its personnel were all ultra security conscious, some early Strategy Coordinators would not even tell the home office where they were because they believed they would compromise their security. They were probably right! The fight was on. I was appointed CSI by the way, and I still love the ethos that we had- and in some places still have. In 1997 Dr. Rankin instituted New Directions. When we first got word of this we thought our work was finished. CSI was disolved. We would be platformless in the middle of hostile territory. As we read and reread the e-mails the truth began to dawn on us however. CSI didn’t disappear, it took over! The ethos and linear structure of CSI was placed on the whole new IMB. I didn’t understand it at first but later came to a startling conclusion. Dr. Rankin hated CSI and had constant conflict with its Regional Leader but when it came time to reorganize he did what he always did. He got on his knees and asked God what He wanted. I am sure no one was more surprised at the answer than Jerry. He had wanted to reorganize to get rid of an administrative and relational irritant but heard God say much more than he bargained for. But when Jerry Rankin hears from God he moves in faith to do it regardless of the price to be paid by himself or anyone else. He swallowed his pride and reorganized. It could have been done better. No one- least of all Dr. Rankin- denies that. One problem was that while Dr. Rankin swallowed his pride the Regional Leader of CSI could not reconcile with him and work with him. If he had taken the VP slot offered him everything would have been different but it didn’t happen that way.

Dr. Jerry Rankin is a man of prayer, a man of passion for God and His glory, a man of humility and grace. When 9/11/2001 shook America he took a lot of phone calls some loudly demanding that we remove our personnel from those ‘dangerous places.’ Some insisted that Dr. Rankin not allow their loved ones to serve in those dangerous Muslim countries. He replied that that is where his own daughter was serving! He walks his talk. Dr. Rankin has now walked us through another reorganization which streamlines our support process. Through it all he never shies away from conflict, he never sways from what God is calling him to do, and he never fails to be exceedingly gracious as he does it. I am very proud to serve with this man and his wife who deserves her own post or three written about her. As long as Southern Baptist produce men and women of God like this I want to be known as a Southern Baptist.

Thank you Dr. Rankin, for your service, your example, and your perseverance. You are welcome here in Middle Earth anytime.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Team in Amon Hen

One of the coolest aspects of my job is the really cool people I get to work with. It is, or has become my job to facilitate the work of many. This was not always the plan. When I was a pastor in the West I imagined myself coming out here alone with my family, leading people to faith in Jesus, baptizing them, worshiping together, starting churches that started churches.... it all seems simple and straight forward. Surprisingly, I did an odd but wonderful thing. I allowed my basic faith in Jesus to guide my actions. Oh, you think that sounds easy? Simple? Obvious? You would be quite wrong. I remember when we set up our new team in Minas Tirith in 1997. We were immediately overwhelmed with the number of western workers who needed more care than the nationals we came to serve. We worked hard to do both. Basically, I as team leader spent more time with Westerners and the other two families stayed on task ministering to nationals. Then, in 2000 we had new families join us. It was hard. I remember during one team meeting that some of the others complained that we were taking too much time dealing with the new folks. There were all kinds of issues... I cut them off. I said in no uncertain terms that any child of God deserved our love, our respect, our loyalty. How we treated each other was a big signal to the new Church in Gondor on how they were to treat each other, how we all valued each other in the Kingdom. Hospitality is a primary value for me. My door is open to all who need to come in. My table is ready to serve all who come by. If you have not had water in three days and need a shower or need to wash clothes my house is available to you. In the 13 years that I have been on the team hospitality has been a non-negotiable value.

I saw firsthand the results of this two weeks ago when I went up to Amon Hen. Amon Hen is a town at the head of a remote valley here in Gondor. More than 300,000 people live in that valley with no access to the Gospel. This wrong is now being righted as we have a team there now. The team is made up of four couples. Two couples were thrown out of Rohan three years ago. Even though one of them was not with our organization we gave them a visa and set them up with housing. Another couple tried to go to Rohan and was unable, again we took them in and helped them with visas and language training. Another couple was worn out by the unrest in Mordor and needed a new place to serve. We took them in again. Now, we have four experienced families in Amon Hen who know language and culture already. They are fantastic folks who will see the Lord do more in that valley than I could have ever hoped to dream to accomplish myself. Two weeks ago I sat down at a long table with all of them and all of their kids and they said, "Strider, this is your Amon Hen team!" I said, 'No, this is the team that God has placed here in His timing for His purposes." This is true but it is also false humility. I should not forget why that team is there. It is because my family and our team made the simple yet difficult decision years ago to love God's people regardless of the costs. There have been costs but I would pay a hundred times more to see the people of the Amon Hen valley reached for Jesus. He deserves the worship of everyone up there. I don't know how or when they will worship Him but I know now for sure that they will hear that He is worthy to be worshiped.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Surprised by Passion

I complain a lot actually. Here in Middle Earth there seems to be plenty of things to complain about. We have not had electricity in the daytime for the last five days and today someone said that could become a permanent regime. Our secretary went down to the local government office to register some guests and was told that because they were only here for three days that they did not need registering. She had already paid a $100 for the registration fee when they told her this and now they wont give the money back. Life as normal in Minas Tirith. I complain about it often. They are tearing all the old trees out of the city to widen the streets and it is a mess and it is taking away the only attractive part of our city. There is a lot to complain about. And then this happened.

I heard from a colleague of mine that his home church would not support him anymore. There were a couple of reasons for this. They said that being in Gondor was too hard on his family and they said that he did not have enough fruit to show for his efforts. I wrote to them to encourage them to support him. When they refused something in me was greatly offended. A man and his family had come to Gondor and learned the language and communicated the love of Christ (effectively I might add) and they want to take him away? But these are MY people. Jesus loves them and we MUST reach them with His truth. I was surprised by my passion for these people, for this place, for what God is doing and will do here.

So, I here and now determine that I will be thankful. Thankful for a sending organization that loves Gondor and believes in the work that we do. Thankful for the privilege of sharing Jesus in a tough place. Thankful to serve a people who are hospitable and gracious. Thankful to live on the roof of the world amidst majestic mountains and beautiful river valleys. Thankful to serve my Lord who gave up everything to serve me.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Going out of the Camp

When reading Francine Rivers' book,"The Warrior", which was a fictional account of Caleb's life I was struck by a larger truth. The Israelites were given an important task, a command to take the promised land. They stopped short. By the end of the book of Joshua we see that the Israelites had won all the battles but failed to take the land. Several towns which had been taken were even abandoned and then the Canaanites had moved back into them. It must have been really hard to keep after the task year after year. I can't imagine what butchering people day after day would do to man a but of course, the consequences of not finishing the task costs Israel centuries of disobedience and hardship.

We have been given a task as well. We are to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. We have for 2000 years so far fallen short! Yes, it is hard. There are a lot of reasons to stop short. We are comfortable in the camp. We want to build up communities and organizations that we can hide in. We call it 'being fed' or 'being not of the world'. We stay busy 'loving' the brethren so much that we don't have too much time for more conquests. Beth Shemesh is a darn big and scary town. Maybe next year. Caleb had to make the offer of his own daughter's hand in marriage to the guy who would finally take it. Well, you can't have my daughter but what is it going to take for you to get out and take the next town?

I was reading in Hebrews the other day in chapter 13 and it reinforced this point for me. Hebrews 13:11-14 says,

For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. Therefore, Jesus also suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood. Let us then go to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.

People talk about being far away from God all the time. Some people feel disconnected from Jesus and if you go into any Christian book store you will find shelves and shelves of books on what is wrong with you and how you can fix it. I think the issue is right here in these verses. 'Let us go to him outside the camp'. We sing songs, read the Word, listen to other's sermons, etc etc but where is Jesus? Outside the camp with the needy and poor is where we will find him every time. If we will stop trying so hard to make our home here and seek for a better home in the age to come perhaps we will at last fulfill his calling and go out and complete the task He has for us. It is very hard and costly. In fact, we won't be able to do it without Him. Apparently, we can find Him if we go outside the camp and serve others as He did.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

God's Timing

Work here is slow going a lot of times. It seems that no matter what I do people just take a long time to move from point A to point B. That goes for both humanitarian and spiritual things. It seems also that God is never in a hurry. We wait on Him to move and He does move.... in His own time. I have seen what I thought was the 11th hour come and go and yet when He moved everything was made right. His purposes were fulfilled even when I thought all was lost. He is like that and part of my sanctification is to learn to see His timing and be content.

Sam and I went to Osgiliath before I went on vacation. We did a major project there and it failed. Then we did another project and it finally succeeded resulting in a village with no access to clean drinking water being supplied with some of the sweetest, cleanest water in Gondor. After our initial failure most in the village lost faith. On the day that Sam and I stood next to a running tap and prayed a blessing over the village in Jesus' name a man came up to me and said, "You need to come to my house now." He explained that he had told his neighbors that water was never coming to this village and if it did ever come he would kill a cow. The cow was now dead and I was invited to go help eat it! Before we went in to eat the cow he told a story in front of all the other villagers. He said that after he had lost faith that the water would ever come there were only four people left who would go up the mountain to work on the pipe. One was a young unmarried women who was in bad health. As she toiled day after day she exclaimed that she would not live to see water in the village. She died two weeks before the water came. Many villagers around us had tears in their eyes as he told that story. I know I did. What kind of woman keeps working for her people when everyone else has given up? The kind of person who might listen to the Gospel? We will never know. When we went in to the man's house to eat the cow several talked about God and His will, and their very fatalistic view of life. I told them that the religious bully's of Jesus' day tried to manipulate people. Jesus said that he knew what God was really like and he told them the story of the Prodigal Son. I shared the story and I said, 'Some of us are like the younger brother and some of us are like the older brother but the Father invites everyone to the banquet. Jesus' point is that the Father is inviting us all. He loves us all. They were all clearly moved at this. Sam then shared the Gospel and they received it well- but no commitments yet!

Sam and I will go back up to Osgiliath next week. When we do we will see how the seeds we have planted are growing. I still don't understand God's timing. I don't know what I will find or how much more work will need to be done before the Kingdom seeds take root and grow into a faithful Church. I don't know about timing but I believe that that is exactly what will happen as we remain faithful to love the poor and needy.

Monday, August 24, 2009

There and Back Again

I have been on vacation to the rainy cool United Kingdom and it was a great joy. We spent time with my wife's family- they are from Scotland- and had a very refreshing three weeks. At one point we took six days and went to Staithes in Yorkshire. It is a little fishing village and it is so remote that it does not have internet or cell phone coverage. Yeah, my kind of vacation! When I wasn't watching the boys play in the tide pools, eating copious amounts of fish and chips, or playing cards with my wife, her sister, and her Mum I read a couple of books and meditated on God's goodness.

The first book was Brennan Manning's newest effort 'The Furious Longing of God'. This book made its point again and again like a thundering sledge hammer. God loves you. This is all you need to know. The knowledge of God's love is what will change the world. Brennan writes passionately about this from the perspective of one who continually falls from God's grace and yet can never escape the God who is furiously longing for him. I needed to hear this for myself but also, I needed to see that all men and women everywhere are sought after by God. God is holy and that means that He is set apart from us, that He is not like us, that He is wholly other than us. Usually we take this to mean that He somehow does not have the emotions and passions that we have but I think that to the contrary it means that God loves more, is more passionate, is more emotional, is more loving than we can conceive of. Manning borrows his good friend Rich Mullins' phrase, 'the reckless raging fury that they call the love of God' and uses it throughout the book.

When I was up in Cair Andros a month ago I saw some crippled people. A hunch back with serious health problems, a few blind people, and several other physically and emotionally damaged people. I prayed to the Lord and asked Him if He wanted me to pray for their healing. He replied that if He healed these then how would I demonstrate His love for them? He longs for these broken people who are physically disabled but more importantly are in spiritual bondage. He wants me to show love and compassion for them. He says that that kind of love is what will transform the village. I am looking for ways to obey his calling. And this leads me to the second book I read.

Francine Rivers is my second daughter's favorite author. I have not read her before but I picked up her book 'The Warrior' from her Son's of Encouragement series. It is a fictional account of the life of Caleb who was granted to go into the promised land with Joshua when they alone of the 12 spies of Israel gave a good report to the people who rebelled against God and refused to take the land God gave them because of fear. When he was 85 years old he asked Joshua to give him the hill country as his share of the inheritance of his family even though that was some of the toughest country to take. While the account was fictional much of it was plausible. At the end of the book something really impacted me. Caleb had trouble motivating his sons and his clan to keep taking the land, to fulfill all of God's commands to them to totally wipe out and push out the former inhabitants and fully occupy the land. Finally, he offers his daughter's hand in marriage to the man who will take Kiriath-Sepher. This is biblical but we don't know why he felt he had to do this. In Francine Rivers' book he is compelled to do this because it is the only way to get his clan to keep on fulfilling God's command. It occurred to me that we also have a command to fulfill, to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. It must have been exhausting for the Children of Israel to keep on fighting, to keep on destroying town after town, village after village. I don't know, and don't really want to know what that much fighting and death would do to a person. There were good reasons to stop short, to turn to farming and consolidating the land they had. By not fulfilling the task the Lord gave them they crippled themselves and condemned themselves to constant disobedience and lives lived far from the blessings God had intended for them. Are we any different today? The church in the West is huge and wealthy and has a thousand different calls on its time and energy. Does she have time to take the land? Does she have the strength and will to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth? Will we be faithful to fulfill God's commands or will we like all those before us hope that our children rise up in obedience where we have fallen short.

For me and my family we can say with Caleb, 'Give us this hill country' but of course that is because He has called us to a mountainous difficult land. Someone will need to take the valleys, the plains, the islands etc. So, I will continue this blog as a record of our battles here in Middle Earth. Join us when you can.

Thursday, July 02, 2009


Every time I see Eomer these days he has another great story to tell. A couple of months ago a cousin of his came to faith and Sunday that cousin's brother-in-law came to faith. Eomer said that this guy had come to their home during their family worship time about a month ago. He was depressed and just sat with his head in his hands the whole time, looking down and not saying anything. They supposed that he just was not interested in the Good News being shared. Saturday night he had a dream. He was standing in the presence of Jesus and light radiated from Him. He wanted to approach Jesus but he was dirty and he felt ashamed. Just when the longing to approach Jesus was about to overwhelm his shyness he woke up. He got down on his knees and prayed to receive Jesus right then. Then he got on the phone. He called Eomer later that morning and told him what happened. Eomer and his wife went down to see him that evening. They counseled him and rejoiced with him. They told him he must tell others about Jesus and asked if he was ready to do this? Family persecution is a big deal and many are secret believers for years before they get up the nerve to tell even their closest relatives about their new faith. He replied that he had called his mom and dad and all his family and told them what had happened before he had even called Eomer. Praise God who gives faith in abundance and shines His light in the darkest of places.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Controversial Divorce Post

This issue is not my issue. I don’t know why this subject touches me so deeply. But nevertheless, it does. I feel deep emotion well up in me every time this subject comes up. I don’t know why…. Or maybe I do. Let me get my thoughts down on paper (or cyberspace) and see if I can make sense of what is going on inside of my heart. This post should have been several posts but here it is all at once. Don’t feel you have to read it all at once!
The Gospels bring up the subject of divorce several times. Jesus uses the sin of divorce in the catalogue of sins that we underestimate in Matthew 5. Murder is bad but so is anger, adultery is bad but so is lust, divorce is a sin equal to adultery when the person remarries. Divorce shows up several other times. Jesus is asked about divorce in Matthew 19. He makes the point that while Moses allowed a certificate for divorce this was the result of man’s sinful condition. Divorce was never the divine plan. In all of this Jesus brings us to see the beauty of Marriage. Marriage is one of the highest goods that man can attain to. A husband and wife submitting to one another, serving one another, loving one another is a powerful blessing in the world. It is a picture of the oneness we were meant to have with God. It is at once a reality of love lived and a picture of love as it should be. Because of this our enemy hates it. He attacks it mercilessly and as a result he has succeeded in destroying many marriages throughout history. Divorce is the death of the unity and love that God intended for us to have. Jesus makes it clear that this is sin. Everyone who has been divorced understands this all too well. It is painful and devastating. Preachers declaring divorce to be a sin is like a scientist publishing a paper declaring fire to be hot. Duh. So far, I have said nothing that I know of to be controversial. Christians and non Christians in every culture around the world understand that divorce is wrong and that it is devastatingly hurtful to all involved. It is a sin- something that God does not intend for us. As Christians we understand that sin is rebellion against God and His ways. When we sin we are separated from God. As sinners we are separated from God and His family, His purposes, and His plans. Rebellious sinners live as enemies of God. Jesus whole point that he was making in Matthew 5 was that we are wholly separated from God and what God has intended us to be.
I am notorious for introductions that are too long. I stand guilty again! Now, on to the point. Divorced people like all other sinners can be saved. The sin of divorce is covered and forgiven by Jesus through His death on the cross. Sinners can be saved and used by God for His Kingdom purposes. We have the privilege of cooperating in our Father’s business. We become Ambassadors for Christ and ministers of reconciliation. We are made a ‘Kingdom of Priest’. I get excited about redemption. I love redemption stories. I love stories where the bad guy, instead of being killed by the good guy, is converted, joins the good guy team. There are not many of these stories and yet, I am in one myself! I was the bad guy, an enemy of God. I was in rebellion and even after my ‘salvation’ I continued to rebel in many different ways. And yet, here I am a servant of the most high. His grace truly is sufficient for even me.
But in the Church in the West today grace seems to have different meanings for different people. Just the other week I was in a conversation with good friends who love the Lord and they were arguing that there were ‘consequences’ for divorce. Sin was forgiven but the consequences must remain. Divorced people could not be pastors in the Church. In our organization divorced people can not be appointed as career Missionaries. The sin of divorce can not be undone. There was a time when I understood and agreed with this. Then there came a time when I didn’t understand this but still agreed with it. Then there came a time when I didn’t understand this and stopped agreeing with it. Now I seem to be coming to a time where I do understand this and I hate it with a great hate. As I have said before this is not my issue. I am not a divorced person. But somehow this issue is coming to represent a larger issue for me and the Church that I love. For me, this issue is not about divorce but about salvation. It is about the sufficiency of the cross of Christ. Let’s take this issue point by point.
First, let me reiterate that divorce is a sin. This is scripturally true and experientially true. You won’t find many divorced people who say, ‘Hey, that was fun. Let’s do it again!’ Divorce is so enormously destructive that it is one of the few sins all people everywhere can agree on. So, let’s move on. Second, sins can be forgiven. Forgiveness of sin is not some automatic stamp that comes down out of the sky however. Peter calls the Israelites to believe and repent. Belief is very important because if you don’t know that your sins can be forgiven you won’t ask for them to be forgiven. You must have faith in the Cross of Jesus. It is belief in Jesus suffering and death on the Cross that enables God’s work to be done in our hearts. It is faith that opens up our hearts and minds to inviting the Holy Spirit to come into our dead souls and bring us to life. Faith is a gift of God- but we can discuss election and the ‘how’ of the gift of faith another time. For now, most of us agree that by faith we repent of our dead useless lives and receive salvation. Salvation is the cleansing of our sins, the joining of ourselves into God’s family and the restoration of our souls from lonely, isolated death to eternal life in relationship with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I am sure I could have worded all that better but again, we pretty much agree with that so let’s move on. Third, once we are saved we are redeemed to walk in the ‘good works’ that He has prepared for us. He saves us for a purpose- His purpose. Getting to go to heaven is a shallow and inadequate view of salvation. He saves us to eternal life now. Now, we are in relationship with Him and now He is working in us and through us to achieve divine plans and purposes. The Holy Spirit not only cleanses us from sin but He gives us gifts with which we serve the Body of Christ, His Church.
Here is the deal. If a guy commits murder and then gets saved we give him a place to speak. He encourages us with his story of God’s saving grace and we rejoice. If God so calls him we make him a pastor, a deacon, a missionary. We love this guy! He reminds us of how great a love our God has for us and just how powerful that love really is. Same thing if a guy is a drug addict, or a pimp, or a gangster, or a lawyer. God’s grace is sufficient for those guys so that encourages and inspires the rest of us. But not if he is divorced, not in Southern Baptist life anyway. Not in a lot of churches in fact. If a guy is divorced there are consequences. I have actually heard people in the Church say that in spite of a persons gifting, and regardless of whether they believe they are called they can not serve as pastors, deacons, or missionaries. They believe the Word forbids them to serve in these roles.
So, now I am to the place where some of you probably think I should have started. 1 Tim 3 lists the qualifications of pastors and deacons. The ESV says in 1 Timothy 3:2-3:
Now a bishop must be above reproach, married only once, temperate, sensible, respectable, hospitable, and apt teacher, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and not a lover of money.
It goes on in verse 4 about managing his household etc but this is enough to be getting on with. Now, the problem for what I am talking about is found in the second qualification; married only once. The Bible translators left no doubt about what they thought when they translated this. The Greek that Paul wrote said, ‘the husband of one wife’. It is interesting to look at the history of how this has been interpreted. Today it simply means that anyone who has had a wife, divorced her and remarried another woman is disqualified from leadership based on this passage. But in SB life today we go further. Not only is anyone who remarries disqualified but if a man marries a divorced woman he is then disqualified but more than that any divorced man is disqualified even if he remains single after his divorce. We don’t interpret any other qualification on the list as strictly as we do this one. A guy steals and repents then that is fine. A guy commits adultery, is a bad tempered, loud mouthed, obnoxious jerk and he gets promoted to the bigger church with the bigger salary. Our society rewards the ‘big’ personality. On alcohol we are again pretty strong. The verse says ‘not a drunkard’ but anyone who believes that it is ok even for someone else to have a drink and we pretty quickly toss that guy out. But I am not concerned about our stance on alcohol. I am very concerned about this idea that divorce is the one sin that can not be forgiven. I know, I know, no one is saying it is not ‘forgivable’ they are just saying that it has ‘consequences’. Well, lets look at the ‘consequences’. As we look at 1 Tim we see that Paul is concerned with the character of the person chosen to lead. This matches Jesus emphasis on the ‘heart’. All of the qualifications are character qualifications- except for the divorce one. Or is it? When Paul requested Timothy to look for a godly leader is he concerned about his past marriage record or with his current character? I believe that as we read this in context we see that Paul is wanting a leader that is a ‘one woman man’ (this is a much more literal translation than ‘married only once’). We all know men in our society that are decidedly NOT that. There are men who view women as conquests, men who keep looking over the fence regardless of who they are married to. This is the person Paul is warning us against and quite honestly we should heed that warning much more carefully. But more than this, this list is not a set of laws that are carved in tablets of stone. Quite honestly, taken as laws set in stone no man has ever qualified to be a leader! Who has never lost his temper? Who has never coveted or been greedy? Many of you reading this are Americans so be honest! A bigger problem for me as I plant churches in a Muslim country is that a man be of ‘good reputation’. Anyone who becomes a follower of Jesus here is considered to have sold his faith, betrayed his people, and become a ‘kofir’. So, there are no men of good reputation in the Church! Is it Paul’s desire that we not have leaders in the Church here? Of course not. He was laying out the general characteristics of the kind of man that Timothy was to be looking for. We should heed his advice but we should not make his advice a law. What I am saying is that we already do this with all the other qualifications. It is just the husband of one wife qualification that we refuse to budge on.
Let us look now to the truth of the situation. Does the divorced and remarried man have more than one wife? My answer may surprise you. I contend that it depends. Remember what I said above about salvation? Faith is needed for repentance. What if the divorced person believes his sin to be beyond repentance? What if he believes that this sin is beyond forgiveness? I know guys like this. I know guys in the West who have told me straight to my face that they were beyond help. They had divorced and remarried and now they could not undo what they had done. They gave up on the Church and sent their children hoping against hope that their children would do better. The logic goes like this: A man gets divorced and then remarries. He repents of the sin of divorce but there is nothing he can do about the sin of remarriage. Everyday he is committing adultery with his second wife and it would be wrong to leave her and wrong to stay with her. I firmly believe that there are many men and women who feel this way even if they never express it this way. So, what is the outcome? Men and women marry and divorce, marry and divorce again never seeking repentance and forgiveness because they have no faith that there is any forgiveness for them. I know, I know, your church doesn’t teach this. No, your church just declares that a divorced person is unfit to be a deacon, pastor, or missionary. ‘Welcome divorced people we have a great class just for divorced people. Go in there and don’t bother us anymore.’ I know this is harsh but I have met many divorced people who feel this way. The result is that 75% of second marriages fail. Why? Because they never dealt in repentance and humility with the issues that killed the first marriage. For these people they are not the ‘husband of one wife’. The broken relationship with the first wife is still there like a millstone around their necks. Often they are bitter and hurting and no, they are in no position to be leaders in the Church.
But what about real repentance? What about the man who looks deeply into his sinful heart, sees the evil there and begs forgiveness and cleansing? Can it be found? The Bible leaves no room for doubt here. Romans 8:1 says that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 Corinthians 5:17 declares that we are new creatures in Christ- the old has passed away behold all things are become new. Is divorce a sin? Yes. What happens to sin once we nail it to the cross? It is eradicated. It is removed as far as the East is from the West. For the man or woman who has been divorced and truly sought forgiveness and healing I firmly believe that it is wrong to accuse them of divorce anymore. I believe that the person is a new creature. In Romans 7 Paul uses the issue of divorce to illustrate our sinful predicament. We are married to sin and Satan and only by death can we be set free of the contract. Jesus died on our behalf to set us free. Maybe this is why the issue is a big one for me. If there are ‘consequences’ for the sin of divorce how can I be free of the consequences of my sin?
The only consequence of sin for the follower of Jesus is the Cross. This I believe and this I proclaim. If you are weighed down by sin in any way then you must give it to the Cross. Only Jesus blood can atone for sin. To declare that there is any other consequence of sin is to declare the Cross inadequate. I will not do this. I know that there are many good and gracious leaders and teachers who have searched the scriptures on this and come to a different conclusion. I believe they have come to the right conclusion about the nature of divorce but they have misunderstood the radical nature of forgiveness. For all you divorced people out there I think that when someone says, ‘hey you can not serve because of your divorce’ then a proper response is that Romans 8:1 declares there is no condemnation. No one has a right to condemn what Jesus gave his life to forgive. If sin is forgiven then one must conclude that divorce is either not sin or that it is not forgivable. I reject both of these options on the grounds of the Biblical witness and the Cross of Jesus Christ. Divorced people must use their gifting to fulfill their callings. The Church must help them to do this, not stand in their way in the role of the accuser of the brethren. There is one ‘Accuser of the Brethren’ and his name is not Jesus. We are those who offer grace and forgiveness. So, offer it and don't hold back.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Michael Jackson and a Love Not Found

Michael Jackson is dead at the age of 50. This is a very sad tragedy. He died after a life of seeking acceptance and recognition. He never believed that he was loved and beloved. He was always striving and seeking for that which, even with all his immense talent, he could not earn. His search for love and acceptance drove him to great heights as a musician and great depths as a person of destructive addictions. I wish he could have known the truth.

There is a scene in the movie The ‘Jesus’ film where Jesus is sitting on a bench or wall- hard to tell what- and there are several women sitting next to him. It is an uncomfortable scene to watch with Muslim men here in Gondor. Jesus is completely culturally inappropriate. These women are obviously ‘loose’ women and they are sitting so close to him they are touching him. He reveals no shame or disdain for them at all. On the contrary, he is teaching them about the Kingdom and seems to be enjoying himself. From everything I know about the Gospels this surely did happen. Jesus ate and drank with prostitutes. As I watched this scene with some coworkers recently – all men- I joked that that is fine for Jesus but if any of us are ever found to be on that bench with those women we will be fired! And yet this is the God whom we represent. A God who invites, accepts, welcomes sinners home. His love and his invitation are not dependent on our works, our character, or our understanding. His love is.

We use words to describe God like ‘glory’, ‘majesty’. ‘righteous’ and surely all these words and many more describe Him as accurately as mere words can. But there is so much more to our God. I wish Michael could have understood that he was invited, and accepted, that there was a place for him sitting next to Jesus. I pray that the men and women of Gondor can understand this. It is the only way they can repent and turn from the sin that is killing them. I pray that I could really believe this kind of love and invitation. Can I be welcomed on the bench? Can I sit so close that I touch him? Will he laugh and tell me of his love for me or will I be asked to move over and make room for someone more worthy? Everything about the Gospel revealed in the Bible says that I will be welcomed. Why is that so hard to know and understand? Michael never heard this- even though growing up in America he surely heard it many times. I pray that I will live it much better, much truer, and offer it much more boldly.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Remember Your 5!

Remember your five is a slogan. Generally, I don't like slogans, methods, formulas, etc. They seem artificial and impersonal. But the reality is that we are creatures of habit. We all respond well to formulas, slogans, and methods like it or not. 'Remember your five' is a slogan that many of us in our region have been championing for some time now. It means that we should remember to pray for five lost individuals that we are asking God to save. I have been praying for five and reminding others to pray for five for six months or so now.

Back in March I visited a team down in Belfalas. They were struggling with a great problem. Several people had come to faith in different communities around them and they did not know exactly how to bring them together in a Church. The decision was made to not bring them together in an artificial group run by foreigners but instead to see that each individual in his or her own community would lead others to faith in their community and start separate churches. This of course, is slow work. How will the individuals relate to each other and support each other until new Churches are formed. The foreigners were at a loss as to what to do. They could disciple the individuals but how could they get them into community? Community is essential. When the religious leaders asked Jesus what was the greatest commandment He couldn't give them just one. He said that they must love the Lord with all their hearts- AND their neighbors as themselves. You must do both. If we would be real disciples of Jesus we will love God and we will love each other in community. This is what real Church is. The living out of this 'second' commandment.

I went back down to Belfalas this last week and asked them how it was going. It turns out that the foreigners did not have a clue as to how to solve the problem but God did! They taught the individual Christians in the scattered different communities to 'Remember your 5.' The result was that as these Christians were praying for their five people they felt burdened and overwhelmed. They began to meet with each other to pray for each other and encourage one another. They have not started one big church- they live in different villages- but they meet to encourage one another on a regular basis to pray for their five and to pray that God will raise up a Church in each one of their communities.

Man's problems are messy, God's solutions are always elegant. Do you have five you are praying for? Remember your five.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Weddings and Answered Prayer

Eomer just came in to see me as I was catching up on all my financial reports and administrative work. So yeah, I told him to sit and talk to me as long as possible. He had a good story to tell. I wrote a few weeks ago how he had devised and presided over a Christian wedding between believers that was acceptable in the eyes of the onlooking Muslim community. I finished that happy story with the story of another couple who were not permitted to do this as their foreign pastor felt that it was compromising the Truth. Eomer just informed me that the Bride AND Groom came to him and asked him to help them do a Christian wedding in the Bride's village. Apparently, neither set of parents was happy to have the couple marry in the Christian Church with a Western ceremony. So, they will go to the Bride's village this weekend and have a Christian wedding that honors the cultural traditions of the village. Eomer is excited. I am excited. The foreign pastor is annoyed but he wont stop them. We have a team in that village and this is going to be a great witness for Christ there as these two young people honor their parents and lift up the name of Jesus at the same time. We prayed this would happen. Why are we surprised? It is funny to me- in a desperately sad kind of way- that no matter how many times God has proven Himself faithful we still are surprised when He is found to be..... faithful yet again. We should pray more.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

On the road again

Well friends, I am traveling again but when I come back next week I have some good stories to tell. Our King is on the move!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Weddings: The Joy and the Challenge

One of the really cool things about my job is the learning of a new culture. I have enjoyed going to weddings and funerals and all kinds of important life events here in Middle Earth. I know the Culture of Gondor better than most other Westerners on this planet and yet, I am still learning new things all the time. No matter how much I know I am still not a man of Gondor. I am an outsider. I must be yet a learner.

One of the great challenges of a new Christian community is how to behave in their culture. We are no longer 'of the world' but we are still in it. Years ago missionaries came to new cultures and by way of converting them to 'Christianity' the missionaries would teach them to read and write, wear Western clothes and reject all local traditions that the missionary did not understand. We have come a long way in our understanding of the Gospel in culture since then. Well, some of us have.

Eomer is becoming a great man of God. I have known him for eight years now and I have seen God work miraculously to take him from a self-centered materialistic guy to become a true saint. His influence has expanded in the Church here in Gondor and he has especially become an expert on how to have a Christian family while still living in a broken and lost community. Recently, he was asked to officiate a wedding between two believers in a town just south of Minas Tirith where we live. There had been a couple of weddings between believers before but no one was very pleased with how everything came off. You see, some of the more traditional groups teach that if you will have a Christian wedding then you can do none of the cultural things that are so important to the locals. Many Christian couples leave their community and get married rejecting their parents and shaming their families. For some, if you do not do the traditions then in the eyes of the community you are not really married and are living in adultery. In the eyes of the traditional Church all the cultural things are 'Islamic' and to do them is to compromise your faith.

Eomer was convinced that with a lot of input, and a lot prayer he could devise a Christian wedding that would satisfy the onlooking Muslim community. Two weeks ago we went to a truly wonderful event. Two young believers from different Churches were married in a very culturally traditional ceremony. Eomer brought in an older man from a different town and he dressed in traditional clothes. This man was a pastor but when the Muslim Grandfather of the bride saw him he exclaimed, 'Oh, This is going to be a proper wedding!' He knew his daughter was a believer and had assumed that she would not get 'properly' married. The older man came in and gave a blessing. Then the two families broke bread- which is the official engagement ceremony. The pastor then took a cup of water and said a prayer. He read a verse of scripture from the Holy Book about how Jesus offers us living water and then they all drank from the cup. This essentially 'baptized' a very folk Islamic practice. It was interesting to me that they baptized several of these kinds of practices but other practices they refused to do. In the end all the Muslim onlookers were satisfied that these two young people were officially married and all the Believers rejoiced to have a wedding that fit in their culture and yet lifted up Jesus. We danced, sang, and partied all day.

A week later one of the women who were there went to her pastor here in Minas Tirith. She was to be married in a couple of weeks and she wanted to do the same kind of wedding. Her pastor- a European man- said no. All cultural practices were Islamic and any compromise with them was a compromise of the Gospel. This young lady is from a village and she said that if she is married in a 'Western' wedding then she can never go home again. That was irrelevant. Her future husband backed the pastor and so she went to her father to see what he would say. He was surprisingly understanding. He knew she was a Christian and would do things differently. He asked only that they keep one tradition. Could one man from their village go to the breaking of bread ceremony and receive promises from the grooms family that they will treat the bride well. The pastor's answer was an unequivocal no. This was a 'Muslim' practice and they would not compromise. She came to me in tears asking if I could intervene. I told her that I could not. This guy has never listened to me before and he will not now. I told her no matter what she did she was always welcome in my office and our house. This meant a lot to her as she was facing two groups who were willing to reject her forever for making the wrong decision. She will get married two weeks from now. When she does she will never be able to go home again. I wish I could say this was for standing up for her faith but I am afraid that actually she will be banned from her village and her family forever for standing up for European culture. To me, that is a pretty sorry thing to be persecuted for. It is easy for me to see how this European pastor is blowing it. It is less easy to see all the ways that I am yet blowing it. Lord, give us wisdom to proclaim the Gospel- and nothing else.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

The Breaking of the Fellowship

I started this blog to tell a story. I hoped that by telling my story- indeed the story that God was telling in and around my life- that you would be encouraged, challenged, changed. This Spring has been a difficult chapter and as many of you have noticed I have written very little of it. Five years ago I began a fellowship with four men of Gondor, a national staff of believers. We have seen and done things of Epic proportions. We have succeeded and we have failed in big ways. We have grown closer than brothers but I always knew they were not mine. They were on loan from the King for some very special purposes and then they would have to move on. That time came in January.

Frodo is really from what I call Ithilien. He lives in Gondor but does not belong here. Merry is not in fact, a disaster management specialist or a community development expert- he is a musician with a unique talent for recording and dubbing. I knew that they would go and work in those fields one day. Well, that day has come. Frodo now runs a taxi service to Ithilien. He will have 18 plus hours on the road to share with his countrymen as they travel to and fro. He will have a few days rest time each week to stay in Ithilien and share his faith there. I am very excited for him. Merry has started a studio. He is currently working on dubbing the film 'Gospel of John' into the local language using professional actors. I am very excited about the project. We have often used the 'Jesus' film but it is almost 30 years old now and the cinematography is quite dated. 'John' will be a great tool. It is the whole Gospel of John put to film- not an adaptation, the actual Gospel is the script.

This leaves Sam with me alone. He is a great evangelist but he is not able to run projects on his own. For now, I am going with him. I love that but as the Country Director for our Aid Agency I don't really have time all the time. We need a new team. That will be hard to build again. But it is important to know where we are in the story that He is telling. I could offer more money, whine and cry, and get the team back. I could keep things exactly as they have been and everyone would say, 'Oh well done! Keep up the good work!' But I will not, must not do that. God is telling a story in each of our lives and we are each a part of a larger story that is going on. When we make the story about us we begin to manipulate, strive, and contrive. When the story is His story we are free to let go, to fail, to fall, and to wait for a resurrection. So now I am waiting. I know that this year is a crucial year for Gondor- indeed much of the world. As the financial crises has revealed the false god of money to be unreliable and false, we have an unprecedented opportunity to share the truth to those desperate to know. To offer real food to those who have been sated with empty promises for so long will be a great joy. I am not sure how I will do this, where I will go, and who I will go with. I need a new fellowship. I know that as I wait he will provide this for this is what He longs to do. He loves it when we love each other well and work together to accomplish the Father's will. As the story goes on I will remain a part of the Frodo and Merry's stories, if in a small way only. I have loved working with them, and learning about our Father and His ways with them. For now, I am grieving but I grieve with hope and with expectancy; expectancy that the greatest chapters in this story are the ones about to be written.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Out with the Old in with the New

An amazing thing has happened in the midst of the world-wide economic storm that has raged. My organization has authorized me to get a new vehicle. Wow. That is grace! I have been driving a 1995 Nissan Pathfinder since 1998. What a great vehicle! It has really served us well. We bought it in during our first year here in Gondor. The American Ambassador's wife owned it and due to security risks was not allowed to drive it much. We bought it for $18,000. That was a good deal for a tough four wheel drive vehicle back then. We have racked up over a hundred thousand miles on it on the worst roads on this earth for over ten years now and it is pretty tired.

The first big trip it went on we drove it out to central Gondor and back. It forded rivers and went over landslide areas with ease. It was an unnerving thing to be driving along a cliff edge a hundred meters above the river with a hundred more meters of dirt and rock hanging above you only to come to a place where it had all come down across the road. What to do? You go over the landslide which puts your vehicle at a 45 degree angle and when you look out the passenger side window you look straight down to the river. Oh yeah, that is when you go by faith. One time coming back from central Gondor with a friend it had rained all night while we were out there in the village. When we got on the road the next morning it was clear that the easily fordable rivers the day before were now raging. We slowly pulled out into one raging stream and the tires were not catching. We began to be pushed sideways when my friend said in a slightly panicked voice, 'Give it the gas man!' I did and the tires caught and we pulled up on the other side of the river no problem. After years of this kind of abuse the engine had lost a lot of zing and the chassy made many strange squeaks and groans so we decided to retire it to the city. I went out to a very remote village in another vehicle and it broke down. I spent the night out there and the next day the team had driven the Nissan out to find me. They found me, I got in the car and we turned the corner and sunk the Nissan in the river. That is a long story that I told on an old blog post (The Dwimorberg 3/29/07). But in the end a truck pulled us out and we made it home. There was water in the headlights for a year after that. It prompted a lot of questions whenever I would pull up some where!

In the end we did retire the Pathfinder to the city. It doesn't go uphill real well and it no longer has 4x4 capability but I have greatly enjoyed the gift of this vehicle over the years. There are many people in Gondor, Ithilian, Rohan, and even Mordor who have heard the Gospel because the Nissan Pathfinder was able to get me there- and it always got me back.

Tomorrow I will go and pick up a new Mitsibishi Pajero. May it go- and come back- just as faithfully. My promise to all who support us through the Lottie Moon offering and the Cooperative Program is that I will share the Word faithfully everywhere this car takes me.