Thursday, December 20, 2012

God Casts No Shadow...

"Dear God, why don't You do something about evil?"...

This hypothetical prayer may have passed many lips this past week in the wake of the Newtown massacre. It probably came from believers and unbelievers alike striving to cope with the seemingly random act of violence against kindergartner children. "Dear God..."

The book of James reminds us, as does the whole Bible, that God does not ignore evil and in fact has already done something. He encourages his readers by saying,...

"Don't be deceived, my dearly loved brothers. Every generous act and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights; with Him there is no variation or shadow cast by turning. By His own choice, He gave us a new birth by the message of truth so that we would be the firstfruits of His creatures." (James 1:16-18)

I take comfort in knowing that every generous act and every perfect gift is from above. I don't have to understand or even have the question of "why" answered as to a particularly horrific event like Newtown. I can rest that no matter what evil may come, it is not from God. He is the author of good and perfect gifts. 

James goes on to describe God as, "the Father of lights" and "with Him there is no variation or shadow cast by turning." 

There is nothing sinful in our hearts or conduct or in this world that can be ascribed to God. He is light. In Him is the light of men. He is perfect. He casts no shadow no matter which way we view Him from. He is always good. He is perfect knowledge, purity and happiness. To ascribe evil or our evil actions to God is pure blasphemy. He is God. Period.

So when we ask the question of God, "why this evil?", He reminds us in His Word that it is a result of our choice, our rejection of His perfect plan and way. When we ask Him, "why don't You do something about it", He answers, "I have. I gave My One and Only Son, Jesus." 

"Jesus" is the answer to goodness, evil, present struggles and future glory. He is, after all, the Alpha and Omega.

"Dear God, why don't You do something about evil?"

"I did, my child. I sent my Son Jesus..."

Merry Christmas! 

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Nature of Evil...

All of us were saddened, shocked and touched in some way by the mass shooting last Friday in Newtown, Connecticut. Words probably can't describe the emotions we felt when we first learned of the shooting. Then, as the story unfolded, to hear that 26 people had been massacred by a disturbed individual, and 20 of those being children aged 6 and 7 years old, shock and disbelief turned to anger and grief. Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy said, "Evil visited the community today..."

Many have asked, "where is God is all this?" or "why does God let something like this happen?" Others might question God's existence or even use something like the Newtown massacre as proof there is no God.

I do not want to minimize what happened or the grief being experienced, but the truth is that we live in a fallen and evil world. Randy Alcorn says,...

"When we examine the Bible's perspective on evil, we learn that its essence is a refusal to accept the true God as God...Most people understand evil as anything that causes harm. The Bible uses the word evil in a broader way to describe anything that violates God's moral will and therefore displeases Him. Evil is more than the absence of good; it is the corruption of good..."

What we saw Friday was pure evil; a corruption of the goodness of God. Life unregarded and wasted by a disturbed soul. And it was not that evil visited the community; evil lived there as it does everywhere in this world, which is fading away. It just raised its ugly, God-rejecting head.

But what about the innocent children? I agree...

* What about those innocent 20 children in Newtown?
* What about the innocent 16,000 children that die world wide every day due to hunger?
* What about the innocent 3,321 children dying from abortions in the USA every day?
* What about the innocent 2,500 children who die around the globe from HIV/AIDS every day?

There is much evil in the world. It isn't visiting us. It is here, living among us.

Alcorn goes on to say, "God isn't the author of evil, but He is the author of a story that includes evil...Whenever we're tempted to think God has messed up our nice world by interjecting evil and suffering into it, let's remember that in fact we messed up God's perfect world by interjecting evil and suffering (ourselves)."

In devotions yesterday morning, I read a great thought for the day. Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, gave a word of encouragement saying,...

"Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father. To whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen." (Galatians 1:3-5)

God is good. God is on His throne. God has and will always defeat evil. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

There is Hope! Jesus is Coming Soon...

Getting ready to head out to the office this morning, I got in Bubba (the name of my truck), cranked up the local Christian radio station to hear Christmas music and get in the Christmas spirit, and headed for the office. As I creeped slowly onto the interstate, traffic was backed up out the whazoo and my Christmas spirit began to turn into something else. As I came to a complete stop on the highway, what little spark of Christmastime had completely evaporated like the fog rising over river I could see off to my right.

Just as I really started to lose it while sitting in the rush hour traffic, I happened to see a sign posted off to the side of the road and it simply said,...

"JESUS IS COMING SOON"

My whole demeanor changed in an instant. I thought, yes, He is coming back again! In fact, in a little less than two weeks, we will be celebrating His first coming some 2,000 years ago in a manger in Bethlehem. But He's not here; He is risen and He is coming back again.

He's coming back to take His children home. He's coming back to claim His bride, the church. And He's coming back this time not as the baby in the manger or the suffering servant but rather the triumphant King, the Lamb Who was slain but is now the Lion of Judah!

There is hope. In the midst of all the craziness. When things don't go the way I think they should. When problems and pressures tempt me to criticize and take my eyes off the goal. When the world and all that it is in it is seemingly turned on its head. There is hope: Jesus is coming soon!"

I don't have knowledge of the exact time or the exact mode. I do know that it will be a great a glorious day for those who have been washed in  the blood of the Lamb. I also know that it will be a terrible day for those who have not.

So, while there is still day, let us not grow weary in well-doing. Let us not grow weary in sharing the message...

There is hope! Jesus is coming soon!

Selah!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

What Happened After the Lame Man Was Healed...

When God does His work in His way, there is always no small commotion among those affected.

After the healing of the lame man at the Beautiful Gate in Acts 3, a series of things happened...

* The lame man was changed forever. He went walking, leaping and praising God. I can imagine he did that every day until he died because his life was so radically changed.

* The bystanders who saw were filled with awe and astonishment that something like this could happen. Who had ever heard of a man lame from birth now dancing a jig to God?

* Peter and John, seizing upon the moment and the gathering amazed crowd, began to share the message of the gospel. The demonstration of the gospel (e.g. healing of the lame man) was immediately followed by a proclamation of the gospel!

* And it wasn't a mamby-pamby message that Peter preached. He was pretty unambiguous when he said, "Men of Israel, why are you amazed at this?...The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His Servant Jesus...You killed the source of life, whom God raised from the dead; we are witnesses of this. By faith in His name, His name has made tis man strong whom you see and know..."

* The religious leaders became offended, seized Peter and John and had them put in custody overnight. But over 5,000 people believed in their message!

* The next day, Peter and John were dragged before the ruling religious council and asked, "By what power or in what name have you done this?" to which they boldly answered, "...by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene - whom you crucified and whom God raised from the dead - by Him this man is standing here before you healthy!"

* And then, they boldly state for the religious leaders and the whole world to hear...

"There is salvation in on one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people, and we must be saved by it."

The religious leaders were furious. They looked down on Peter and John because they were uneducated and untrained. But they were amazed at their boldness and they recognized that, "they (Peter and John) had been with Jesus."

They leaders ordered Peter and John, "Don't you dare ever preach or teach in the name of Jesus again!"

Peter and John replied, do what you want, but "...we are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard."

The religious leaders threatened Peter and John further and then released them.

Thus, when God's work occurs and people are amazed, there is always opportunity for telling the real story behind everything: God's plan for salvation of the nations. However, there will always be those who will oppose and do all they can to keep this message of hope from going forth. May we all, as followers of Jesus, be like Peter and John and not give in to pressure from the world. No matter if we're uneducated and untrained. No matter is the world threatens us. No matter whether the crowds believe or not. May we always be unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard in Jesus!

Because here is the good news: Salvation is found in no other name but Jesus!

Amen.


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

He Went Walking, Leaping and Praising God...

I'm now in the book of Acts in my daily devotions. Some of my favorite stories of all time. One, in chapter 3 of Acts, is about a lame man being healed.

Peter and John were "as usual" on their way to the temple to pray. In their "as usual" routine of the every day, they saw a man in need. How often do we overlook the needy in our "as usual" routines of the day?

The lame man had been lame from birth. Every day, he was carried to this particular entrance into the temple area. He was carried there not to get well but to beg for his daily bread. He was "ptocheia" poor or what we would call in "absolute poverty." All his hope depended on the mercy and kindness of others. He was, in a sense, a true charity case.

When he saw Peter and John entering the temple complex, he called out to them and asked for help. Peter and John stopped, looked intently at him and said, "Look at us..." So he turned to them expecting to receive a gift of money. But Peter said, "I don't have silver of gold, but what I have I give to you. In the Name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk."

Peter took the lame man by the hand and helped him stand. At once, his feet and ankles became strong. He jumped up, stood and started to walk. He entered the temple complex with them walking, leaping and praising God! And when all the people saw this lame man healed, they were amazed and filled with wonder and awe!

A couple of things really jump out at me in regards to this story (no pun intended). For one, how many years did that man sit by the gate and beg? I assume that there is a good possibility that he had sat there when Jesus passed by. But he was never healed. Is it that Jesus ignored him? Or is it that he didn't ask Jesus for help? Or was it simply that the timing of his healing was really to be when John and Peter walked by? We really can't know the answer to that question. But we do know that when he was healed, in God's timing, he jumped up and went into the temple walking, leaping and praising God!

When is the last time that you and I jumped for joy because of what God has done for us? For me, far too long...

Another thing that strikes me is that Peter and John took time to help. Even though they didn't have a lot of material things to share with the lame beggar, they had time and they had a message of hope in Jesus Christ. I often cringe and even try to look the other way when coming in contact with a person in need. The truth is no matter what we have in our pockets, we can always share a bit of time, a message of hope or even a listening ear to those in need. How much does it cost to stop, listen and pray for or with those in need?

When we allow God or join God in working in His ways, we get to experience what Peter and John did that day. We get to see those freed of their needs walking and leaping and praising God. And, we get to see other who witness God's working be amazed and filled with awe and wonder.

I don't know about you, but I desire to see God do amazing things. I also hope it moves me to walk, leap and praise Him as well.



Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Prayer for Today...

Lord, there has been a lot of dryness in my life lately. It is not You; it is me. My heart and love have grown cold. I follow through with the motions but lack the passion for You. I tend to be sidetracked by the small problems I face and work our of my own strength and understanding as if You did not exist, were not supreme.

Forgive me, O Lord. Remove my heart of stone, give me a heart of flesh and bring me back to You. Give me the grace and desire to follow You with all my heart...

Amen...

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Full of Grace and Truth...

I love the simple yet profound description John gives of Jesus in the first chapter of his gospel. He says a number of things such as...

* The Word (Jesus) was in the beginning of all things...
* The Word (Jesus) was with God and even was God...
* All things were created through Him...
* Life was in Him and it was the light of men...

My favorite part is in verse 14 of chapter 1 where John says,...

"The Word (Jesus) became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father..."

And then my very favorite descriptor of John for Jesus...

"...(He was)...full of grace and truth."

Sometimes I'm full of grace (on good days). Sometimes I'm full of truth (on days that I'm feeling a bit cranky). Most days, I have a little dab of both but certainly not full of either which is surprising because I am a clay vessel-container of the Spirit of God who, in Himself, is full of grace and truth and in-dwelling my heart and life!

So perhaps deep within me is the potential and the promise of being full of grace and truth. However, the carnal man, the outer shell, the earthly pull, somehow crusts over the inner grace and truth that yearns to escape and be evident to the world. My crusty self, the part that needs to die to Christ daily, tends to restrict His grace and truth working in me, longing to pour out to those in need around me.

When I become judgmental and Pharisaic, the "truth" and legalistic part comes out and I am quick to judge, slow to understand and hasty to criticize. When I become compassionate to the point of relativism, I excuse my own and other people's actions because of "grace" and tend to ignore the balance of the truth of God's Word and His absolute yet loving laws.

If I try to balance - say 50% grace and 50% truth, I find myself miss applying one or the other to situations that really require the opposite and thus falling short of Christ's example and expectations.

Full of grace and full of truth. It really is an amazing concept. I am so glad that I serve a Savior who was fully both. I also long for the day to be totally conformed to His image so that I can be as well. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Carrying the Cross...

In Luke's gospel, Jesus tells His disciples that to come along with Him, means that you will have to bear a cross. He puts it this way (Luke 9:23-25)...

"If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. What is a man benefited if he gains the whole world, yet loses or forfeits himself?"

To "come with Jesus" means to literally follow Him, no matter what the course, what the destination. And the "coming with" Jesus is described as worth everything, even to the point of losing oneself for the sake of Christ and His purpose.

Through the years as our family lived and worked overseas, many well-intentioned people in churches in the USA would say things like, "Well, you'll be safe over there because you're in God's will." While I appreciate the thought, I would have to disagree.

Simply stated, there is nothing safe about following Jesus. On the contrary, as I read my Bible, our safety should be the least of our focuses in following Christ. We should seek to be obedient and faithful regardless of where He leads. And where He leads, there is always a cross.

Later in the gospel of Luke, there is a story of fellow who came into Jerusalem, probably with his family, to celebrate the Passover. His name was Simon. He was from Cyrene and was just coming in from the country for a once-in-a-lifetime holiday. As he entered the city, he was grabbed by Roman soldiers and forced to carry a heavy burden - a cross - for a state criminal that was being led to his death. He was overwhelmed, confused and wondered as he carried the burden, looking from face to face and seeing many people jeering while some were mourning and weeping. He was forced to walk behind the person to be crucified and perhaps had the chance to hear who it was....Jesus.

Simon possibly didn't know the honor that was being afforded him that day: to carry the cross of Jesus in the footsteps of the Savior. He probably would not have chosen that assignment if given a choice. But there he was, carrying the cross for the Savior of the world who was being led to the slaughter like an innocent lamb.

The call to follow Jesus is a call first and foremost to take up our crosses daily - whatever they be and wherever they lead - and follow Him. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Pursuit of God?...

One of my favorite authors of all times is A. W. Tozer. His simple but profound way of explaining spiritual truths speaks to me.

A few days ago, I finished re-reading his classic, "The Pursuit of God". In about 10 short chapters, he talks about the things that can and should kindle a passion in us for God and God alone.

As I finished and reflected on what I had read, I had an interesting thought. I always tend to think of "the pursuit of God" as my striving, my efforts and my steps to "pursue" Him. However, the revelation (and I know it is simple and I know that you are wondering why I am so slow) came to me that it really isn't about my "pursuit" of God but rather the fact that God is pursuing me!

I can think of a million, helter-skelter activities that I can engage in to make me appear like a man on a mission to find God. But in the end, the irony is that God does not make Himself hard to be known! He pursues us with a passion we can only dream about. He has loved us with an everlasting love. We are courted by Him, the Creator of the whole universe, as a white-hot Lover seeking the beloved. While we think and often position ourselves as the seekers, in truth, we are the ones being sought by the Great Seeker!

There is something in my sin-filled, self-centered being that says I have got to do something (and do it right) to be worthy of love, God's love. I have to pray more. I have to read more devotional books. I have to meditate more. If I do these things, I will be "pursuing" God...

While I deeply believe and try and practice multiple spiritual disciplines, in the end, the "pursuit" of God is not about our efforts to get to God. It's not even our story or ours to accomplish. The fact is that God is pursuing us! That's the story! That's the good news!

Thank you, Lord, for pursuing me passionately, patiently and lovingly. Forgive me for not stopping and receiving your grace. I am amazed that I am the object of Your affection. Let me rest in You, not my efforts, and let me be totally immersed and washed over by Your pursuit of me.

Amen!

Monday, November 19, 2012

What Are You Thankful For?...

I got to be at our home/base church yesterday and hear Pastor Andy speak. As always, he rightly divides the Word of truth. He shared a thanksgiving message from Psalm 100 and basically said that this Thanksgiving, we should thank God for His greatness (awesomeness) and His goodness.

God is great and awesome and holy. Because of that holiness, He is also righteous and just and will not permit sin in His glorious presence. So, the greatness of God is a bit of a dilemma for us because we, like sheep who have gone astray, are all fallen, sinful creatures. To be honest and frank, all of us deserve death and separation from God because there is nothing righteous within us of ourselves.

However, since God is not only great but good, He provided a way, through His goodness, that we, sinful people, could approach and even have eternal fellowship with Him. His goodness was made complete in the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus. He, who knew no sin, became sin for us that we might experience the righteousness of God. That is good news!

God is great and unapproachable because He is purely holy and we are hopelessly corrupt. But He is also good and provided a way, an avenue if you will, for us to approach Him. And He provided it at a great cost: the blood of His one and only Son, Jesus.

God is great...God is good...
Let us thank Him that He is both!

That's what I'm thankful for...

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Touch of Jesus...

I am once again back in the New Testament in my devotions. This morning, I enjoyed visiting with Matthew (the book of Matthew) and perusing through the first nine chapters.

I made some underlines of previously underlined passages and was struck anew by the actions of Jesus as He started his earthly ministry. In particular, as I re-read the healing passages, I kept seeing phrases such as...

"Reaching out His hand, He touched him..." to a leper. (Matthew 8:3)

"So He touched her hand..." to Peter's mother-in-law. (Matthew 8:15)

"If I can just touch His robe..." said a lady who had suffered bleeding for 12 years. (Matthew 9:21)

"He went in and took her by the hand..." preceded the healing of a girl near death. (Matthew 9:25)

"The He touched their eyes..." and the blind could see. (Matthew 9:29)

I am always struck by the fact that Jesus over and over touches people, physically as well as spiritually, where they are hurting. The lepers skin...the eyes of the blind...the hand of a girl near death. There is something compelling of our Savior not just speaking truth (which He does so well) into the lives of the hurting and needy but also touching them, physically, in the areas of their deepest, darkest needs.

I have never personally experienced the healing touch of Jesus for a major issue like cancer, an unhealed wound, or a sickness leading to death. I am truly fortunate and favored to have lived a relatively healthy and sound life. However, I have experienced the deepest touch of all from Jesus - the touch or his Spirit in my heart.

Isn't it amazing that all of us who claim to follow Christ have been touched and utterly healed of our sin-stricken soul? Once, we were aliens and hostile to God and deserving of death. And now, because of the amazing touch of Jesus on our hearts and lives, we can stand before him as cleansed lepers, seeing blind people and dead ones now brought back to life!

Thank you Lord for Your touch of grace!

Amen.




Saturday, October 27, 2012

A Simple Question...Dignity Preserved

In the tenth chapter of the book of Mark, one of my favorite stories of all time can be found. It is the story of a blind man named Bartimaeus (son of Timaeus).

Jesus is passing through Jericho His last time. He is going to Jerusalem to be crucified. He has been trying to tell His disciples along the way what is about to happen but they are pretty clueless. The disciples are going along with Him and crowds have thronged around Him all in anticipation of a coronation for the Messiah when they reach Jerusalem. But Jesus knows what faces Him is not a coronation but a cross.

As they are leaving Jericho, a blind man is sitting beside the roadway where they pass. Perhaps he has heard about the miracle worker who heals the lame and raises the dead named Jesus. And then he hears that it is Jesus and His entourage that is actually passing by. He begins to call in eager anticipation...

"Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"

The crowds, including the disciples I would think, try to quieten him. They said, "Don't bother the teacher. He's too busy for you. He's going to Jerusalem on urgent business. But the blind man, the son of Timaeus, even cried louder, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"

And then two short words that show the compassion of Christ...

"Jesus stopped.."

With everything going on. With the road to Jerusalem ahead as well as the shadow of the cross, Jesus stopped. On the eve of the greatest event in human history that would require every ounce of Jesus' resolve, he stopped and cared for a person in need.

Not only did He stop, but he did not immediately rush to a conclusion based on what was obvious. He stopped and then He asked a question...

"What would you want Me to do for you?"

Perhaps the disciples around Jesus were taken aback by the question. "Isn't it obvious what this man needs? He's been blind from birth." Yet the Savior of the world, the second part of the triune God-head, the co-author of everything, took time to stop and ask, "What would you want Me to do for you?"

Dignity. Jesus not only was stopping to help but also stopping to give dignity. With a simple question, He gives the right to the person in greatest need to state what is on their heart. Bartimaeus could have asked for anything: wealth, fame, fortune. Jesus gave him the dignity to be able to ask.

Bartimaeus simply asked, "Master Teacher, I want to receive my sight..."

In a world of great need, sometimes I rush to meet that need before stopping and really trying to understand the person or community who has that need. I can think of a million things that will solve other peoples' problems without really taking time to ask if they have a problem. Were I to be more like Jesus who stopped and saw the person and gave that person in need a chance to speak for themselves, I think I would be a better minister of the true gospel.

"What would you have me do for you?" gives the hearer the right and the dignity to share their heart. May we ask this questions continually as we go and may we have God's ears to listen to what people tell us.

Selah!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A New Orphan is Cared For...

BGR partners with a number of folks around the world. One is Tabitha Ministries in South Africa which has an orphanage for HIV/AIDS orphans as well as community based projects with orphan headed households. We have helped to provide food and nutrition needs as well as help for education, support for community based projects, etc. Many of they children they care for are HIV positive. This is by no fault of their own, just the fact their parents were.

Here is a report of a new arrival to Tabitha....

"On Monday, we had a new arrival.  She is the dearest little girl and she is
the first of 4 babies that are headed our way.  Her name is Khetiwe and she
is a big girl.  She weighed 4 kg today so she is a little "heifer lump".  I
have attached a precious picture of our bundle of joy.


I wish to express my deepest gratitude to you and Global Response for the
BGR money and know that it is a result of your hard work and your constant
support of Tabitha that has made it possible.  I am going to be sending a
formal letter with a receipt in the next day or two to make it official."

Praise the Lord for those who care for the orphans of the world! Thank you for supporting BGR who helps support others like Tabitha Ministries!


Monday, October 22, 2012

Wine to Water?...


A BGR partner shares this update:

The southern region of our state is on a plateau, which is mostly covered by jungle.  The area is populated with strongly independent tribes who make their living hunting and gathering from the forest.  There is very little cultivation.  Water sources are creeks and rivers, and there are few wells, because on the plateau area, the water table is too low for a bore well to reach and produce water.  But an open well can be used instead as a source of clean water, if enough water is available for that.  In our well project from BGR, we decided to sink an open well to provide water for believers and the surrounding village. 

As always everyone is invited to take water from the well.  The well diggers came and began to dig the well by hand (pick and shovel, basically).  There are no machines available for this.  The open well must be about three feet in diameter and is dug in cylindrical fashion down until water is reached.  The well went deeper and deeper,until the person digging began to suffer from lack of oxygen. They brought him up with a crane and he was OK, but they decided to break the work into small shifts in order to avoid the stress, and the well went deeper and deeper with no water coming. 

Our local partner was feeling so bad about the worker who was overcome, with still no sign water was going to be found.  People will still have to go miles to get dirty river water.  She cried out to theLord for water to come to the well and bless the village.  The diggersreached a large rock, and when they pulled it up, water gushed into the well so fast they had to make a quick exit!  They told our local partner to go get buckets from the village and she ran to do that, so they could finish the well with a concrete casing.  Now clean water is available to the village without going long distances!

One woman was coming to get water from the well, and no one knew she was using the water to make liquor.  The problem was the liquor was tasting like water.  Her friends kept saying, “This is not liquor. It is water.”  So she came to our local partner and asked why she couldn’t make liquor from the water.  Our local partner told her that when she prayed to the Lord for the water in the well, she asked that the whole village would be blessed by the water.  Because of that, shesaid, God would not allow the water to be used making liquor because liquor is a curse.  She explained to the woman about God’s love and the abundant life he offers, and now the woman and her family know the truth!

I've heard the story of water to wine by Jesus, but this is a great "wine to water" story! :)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Best Place to Be...

This week, I returned from a trip to Afghanistan. I was visiting with BGR partners, doing some training and looking at human needs projects as well as potential project areas. Many people were lifting me up as I went and I kept getting a lot of little notes and messages asking, "is it safe over there?" or "are you safe?"

I look back over the years and realize all the places that I and my family have been and how many of them have not been very "safe" from the world's standard. Yet as I reflect on those places, I have come to understand that while they were "unsafe" by many standards, they were the best place to be. Why? Because they were the places that God had directed me (and my family) to be at that particular time.

Following God's will is not necessarily "safe" from a physical perspective. I have heard some of our best friends say that we were always protected from harm because we were in the center of God's will. Well, I'm not sure that is true (the "safe" part). 

Being obedient to God is not always equated with physically safety but being where God wants you to be is always the best place to be. I can think of friends from our past who were exactly where God wanted them to be and they lost their lives. While we grieve their loss, we can fully say that they were being obedient to their King and thus couldn't have been in a better place. 

I am reminded of the story from the Narnia books when one of the children is walking along the beach with Aslan the Lion. Another one of the children asks a friend regarding Aslan and their sibling, "Is He (Aslan the Lion) safe?" to which the person responds, "No, Aslan is a wild Lion. He is not safe, but He is good." (My paraphrase)

I propose, then, that the best place that any of us could ever be would be to be wherever it is that God leads us to be. Wherever He leads, that is where we should go. He might take us around the world or across the street. And we cannot be sure that where He takes us will be "safe" or not. But we can be assured that wherever He takes us will be good. 

In Matthew 28, after the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, we find the disciples probably not feeling too safe or sure about anything. It had to be a confusing time. Despair in that their Master had been crucified yet a pregnant hope in the fact that they had witnessed Him resurrected. And in the midst of this time, the Bible tells us that...

"The 11 disciples traveled to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had directed them. And when they say Jesus, the worshipped Him..." (Matt 28:16-17) The story then goes on as Jesus gives them their purpose and marching orders to make disciples of all nations. 

The best place to be? Wherever Jesus directs us to go. Is it the safest? Not necessarily but it will be good because we serve the Good Shepherd and He knows His sheep.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Coming Home...

As I write today, I am in a Central Asian country on a trip for BGR. I am having the privilege of viewing some great hunger projects as well as training some of our local partners. 

On the flight in a few days ago, I had an interesting experience. It was of course a rather long time traveling to get here from the USA and I was a bit sleepy and in a daze as our plane started its initial descent into the country. 

Sitting in front of me was an elderly mother and her her middle aged daughter. They were obviously coming home to their country after an extended time out. Even though I couldn't understand them (because of language differences), I could see that they were nervous and even a bit anxious as the plane started to land. 

We were arriving at the break of dawn so it was hard to see out of the plane's window through the glare of the rising sun. But as we began to lower, the landscape below began to come into sight. 

What we saw was the country laid out below us: Arid, barren, treeless, desert and mountainous. Dust was swirling, the mountains were devoid of any vegetation and there were initially a few small buildings (what I would describe as hovels) in our view. In my eye, pretty desolate and bleak.

But I noticed that the anxiousness I detected earlier in the older woman and her daughter in front of me began to turn into excitement, even giddiness! As they saw what I considered a depressing site, they began to laugh and cry and, as best as possible while strapped into a landing airplane, jump up and down with anticipation. They began almost shouting and weeping - obvious shouts of joy, even though I could not understand them.

Then I thought. They are coming home and it must have been many, many years since they had been there. They were delighted and overwhelmed with joy to see their homeland once again. 

While I looked out and saw nothingness, they saw home. Where I saw barren mountains and desert, they saw a beloved place. Truthfully, I could not imagine why anyone would be excited to see what I was seeing. But then again, it wasn't my home.

I wonder if you and I are looking forward to that day with the same expectation and anticipation as these two ladies - to the day when we finally get to our final home? I wonder if we are really looking for that city that is a new creation, whose designer and builder is the Lord of all creation? I wonder if we will laugh, weep and even cry as it comes into our sight just like these two women? 

Sometimes, I get fooled into thinking that this life is the best that God has to offer. In reality, there will be nothing like our going home. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Absolute Futility...

I read through Ecclesiastes in devotions this morning. The wise King Solomon uses this book to examine the meaning to life. He begins by declaring everything as, "absolute futility." (Ecclesiastes 1:2) He then goes on to explore multiple ways that he has sought to find meaning in life with all leading to the same conclusion: "For everything is futile and a pursuit of the wind."

He then turns his thoughts to God and investing in life and begins to come up with a semblance of meaning. In the end (and this is my favorite part of the book), he concludes by saying...

"When all has been heard, the conclusion of the matter is: fear God and keep His commands, because this is for all humanity. For God will bring every act to judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or evil." (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

Sometimes I feel that all we do at helping people physically and spiritually is "futile" as King Solomon points out. Its not that their lives and needs are not worthy of our attention. It is also not that we don't make a difference in thousands of communities and tens of thousand families through our work with BGR. It's just that the magnitude of needs seems to be so enormous that any and all of our attempts to make a difference are little more than a drop in a bucket.

I remember hearing a story once about Mother Teresa. As a person watched her go from one dying person to another, holding their hands, praying for them and speaking a word of comfort, they finally exclaimed to her, "How can you do this every day. How can you continue to minister to those sick and dying. The needs are overwhelming. Don't you know that what you're doing is just a drop in a bucket?" To which Mother Teresa reportedly answered, "Yes. But it is a drop that would be sorely missed if it wasn't there."

In the face of futility, a world sick and dying, I choose to add my drop in the bucket. It may not be much compared to the world in need and it may not be much in comparison with other people's drops, but it is a drop that I believe would be sorely missed if it wasn't there.

I vow not to become weary in well-doing. I choose to believe that what we do, individually and corporately, to help those in need, whether physical or spiritual, is really casting our bread upon the waters. It will swell, grow and multiply and eventually come back home on a wave.

When it's all said and done? I will fear God and keep His commandments because it is for humanity and I know that God will, in His own time, bring every act to judgment.

Selah!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

If (Fill in the Blank) Were a Country...

Bear with me. I'm going play a game. I going to play "If _________ were a country..." How I'm going to do this is fill in the blank with some odd but thought provoking subjects...

* If poverty was a country, it would by far be the largest country in the world. Over 40% of the world lives in either moderate or absolute poverty. That would be a population of 2.8 billion. The two largest countries in the world today (China and India) combined wouldn't even reach that number. I wonder who they would elect as president?

* If absolute poverty was a country, it would be one of the top three largest countries in the world. It would have about 1.1 billion people. Absolute poverty is defined as people who live on less than one US dollar per day. I wonder if some dictator would even want to take it over?

* If hunger were a country, it would be the third largest country in the world at 900 million. It would almost make up three times the population of the USA. I wonder if it were country, would it be as invisible to the rest of the world as it is today?

* If refugees and internally displaced persons were a country, it would be much smaller. Only about 80 million and would rank around #15 in population in the world. Imagine 80 million people living in UN tents depending 100% on handouts for their daily existence.

* If HIV/AIDS was a country, it would have only (sic) 35 million people. Of course that wouldn't count the 15 million orphans left behind by parents who have died of this horrible disease. I guess the only reason this country is not growing quickly is that the death rate is so high.

* If people without adequate access to water were a country, it would make up about one out of every 7 persons alive on the earth today. Thirsty, anyone?

*And finally, if 50% of the wealth and consumption of goods of the world were a country, it would strangely look like the United States which is actually only 4% of the world's population.

I don't know what it is to live in the country of poverty or hunger. I have not had to flee my home and country. I have good health and easy access to drinking water. And I am a one of those 4% who consume 50% of the world's resources.

I wonder what, if anything, all of this means...

LIfe as a Refugee...

The Old Testament teaches us that to take in the stranger and wanderer in the land is an act that honors God. The New Testament teaches that when we take in the stranger (e.g. one needing shelter) we do it as if we are doing it to Jesus.

Refugees are people who cannot go home. Maybe it is because of a natural disaster like drought or famine. Or it could be from man-made disasters like wars and armed conflicts. In many cases it is a mixture of these and many more. Whatever the cause, people have fled their homes and home countries seeking food, shelter, safety, etc.

The UN today estimates there are somewhere between 35 and 40 million refugees. This does not count the group known as internally displaces persons (IDPS) who are displaced but still in their home countries. Maybe upwards to 70 to 80 million people in the world who, for lack of a better descriptor, cannot go home.

Today heard about and saw from a distance 32,000 people in one camp. Tents crowded together. Several hundred families for one toilet/bath facilities. Eating the same food every day. They are grateful but also miserable. They want to go home.

We also visited a few of the 3,000 families who are not in the camp. Same town but they are residing in the homes of locals, renting barns, sheds, shops, anything, to get their family out of the elements. Again grateful for what help they are getting but also lacking in basic necessities. They want good lives for their families. They want to go home. But they can't.

Worse. Winter is coming and winter is harsh in this desert country. There is a grave need for blankets, clothing and fuel for heating the hovels and tents that these people now call home. There is an urgency to winterize their dwellings as well.

We should all be moved at their plight. For one, the Bible commands us to be...to be moved to action. But we should also be moved because we share a kinship. Aren't we also strangers, refugees if you will, here in this world? Aren't we citizens of a newer, better country? Aren't we all just dwelling in temporary tents?

Lord, may I see the struggle of my brother refugee and may I be moved to be Your hands and Your feet to help take them in.


Monday, September 17, 2012

Pray for Syria...

I am writing from the Middle East today. I am here meeting with partners talking, praying and strategizing how to help with the on-going crisis in Syria. I am hearing stories from those who are ministering first hand to refugees and internally displaced persons from Syria.

There are now an estimated 2.5 million affected people. A half million Syrians have fled their country and are living in surrounding areas. They are not being welcomed with open arms but suspicion and in some cases harsh reactions from host governments.

To date, our organization Baptist Global Response (BGR) has helped with almost a quarter million dollars in relief and development aid. Most of this has gone for food and needed household items of the refugees. It's a drop in the bucket but one that is making a difference for thousands of families.

Here's the bad news. The situation of people in need is continuing to worsen. The numbers of refugees and displaced persons is growing daily. The ability of our partners to minister and help them is being stretched to the limits. On top of this, winter is quickly approaching and those living in temporary shelters will be in need of better housing, heating fuel and of course, food and supplies.

In spite of all the needs here, there is still little knowledge and response from our fellow believers in the United States. You see Syria on the news. You read about it in papers and on websites. However, very few people really get involved with helping Syria. Why is this? Maybe we don't know even where Syria is? Maybe we have a negative perception of Syria and countries in this part of the world? Whatever the reason, we as Americans have turned our backs on these millions in need.

I'm going to ask you to do something. Relax. I am not going to ask you to give (even though we could use the donations). I am going to ask you to pray.

Pray for Syria. Pray that peace will come. Pray also that God would touch those who are in need. Pray for our partners who are unselfishly risking their lives and their sanity (at times) to continue to respond.

Thank you for your heart for helping people in need who really can't help themselves...Like these precious people fleeing their homes and homeland in Syria... 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

How Much is Enough?...

We have now lived in the USA for over two years since working 20+ years overseas. This is the longest that we have been back in our home country since our first children, Daniel and Sarah, were born. It has been nice even though a large part of our hearts are still back in Asia where we spent most of our time.

One of the things that pulls on us is having to settle into and deal with the American way of life. We aren't complaining. This is a wonderful place. But the pull towards the standard of living, having things and still needing more things, is still a struggle for us. We now own a house (or a "mortgage" as I like to say), multiple vehicles (because there is no really good way to do public transportation in this great country), and lots of "stuff" to go in that house we are living in. But a nagging question (and I hope it always remains a nagging question) is, "how much is enough?"

This morning, I read again the heart-stirring verses in Psalm 16:5-6. In Israel, when it came time for the tribes to inherit the promised land, the areas were allotted to each tribe at God's direction. Every tribe received their land inheritance complete with borders based upon their size and need. However, the priestly tribe, the Levites, received no apportioned area of land due to the fact God was to be their portion.

If I'm an average Israelite, my inheritance would be land (this speaks to my heart language since I am an agriculturist). However, if I'm of the tribe of Levi, I don't get land but I get a chance to be totally dependent on God. Hmmm....

The spiritual part of me wants to say that I want to be the devout Levite getting God as my portion. The practical (and American, western-culture side of me) says that I really would rather have the land. After all, I was always taught that you can't go wrong investing in land (Palmer family ethos). "Land" as my inheritance or God Himself?...

Could I really say, from my heart, the same as King David...

"Lord, You are my portion and my cup of blessing; You hold my future. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance." (Psalm 16:5-6)

How much is enough? Shouldn't God be enough for all of us?

Selah!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Hunger Looms in 2013...

I read an interesting article in CNN the other day that talks about the looming hunger crisis for 2013. Due to global aberrations in weather, crop failures are reported in just about every major area of the world. We have seen that in the US this summer with soaring, record temperatures and below average rainfall especially in our major food producing states. In encourage you to read the article which can be found at:

http://edition.cnn.com/2012/09/03/opinion/frum-food-price-crisis/index.html?hpt=hp_c1

As I think about this coming hunger issue, I also can't help but think about the pre-exisiting hunger problems that the world faces today...

* The continued drought and hunger issues of North Africa, particularly the Sahel and Horn of Africa regions. Over 20 million people facing food insecurity right now.

* The hundreds of thousands of refugees coming out of Syria, North Africa, and Central Asia due to armed conflicts. Add to this the thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) who can't flee.

* The chronic undernourishment affecting 1 out of every 7 persons in the world today. That's about 1 billion people who live day to day not knowing where they're next meal might be coming from (if it comes at all).

People who know me know that I am not some sort of doomsday prophet. However, I do marvel that all this increase in hunger is coming at a time when those of us who have the resources to help are tired and overtaxed and a bit burned out with compassion fatigue. It seems that we're bombarded by needs of the world everywhere we turn. It can lead to paralysis, ignoring the problems, or worse, apathy.

Here's some relief. Southern Baptists have a historical "dollar in, dollar out" fund that addresses world hunger needs. Eighty percent is used overseas and twenty percent here in the US. It funds critical projects that address both acute and chronic hunger needs. And none of the funds are taken out by the administrating bodies for home office/administration costs.

So, if you only have a dollar or a hundred dollars to do something with about world hunger, I would highly recommend giving through the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund (SBWHF).

You can learn more about the SBWHF by visiting the website:

www.worldhungerfund.com

If you're interested in stories that show how we address hunger issues, I encourage you to visit our BGR website at:

www.gobgr.org

Hunger looms. What can we do? More importantly, what will we do?



Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Tired to the Bone...

I grew up hearing the phrase (mostly from the older folks of our family), "Tired to the bone..." It expresses an exhaustion so deep that it goes all the way down to your bones. Pretty deep.

This week, I am tired to the bone. I just returned from a trip to the west coast where we hosted an international disaster relief training and a medical/health care opportunities workshop. I arrived back in Nashville late Sunday night and started back in the office early Monday morning. I confess that I am dragging and a bit and feeling "tired to the bone."

However, just when I think no one else could be as tired as me, I begin looking through the new BGR projects sitting on my desk needing funding....

* One is for families in sub-Saharan Africa who, because of years of building drought, can't find any way to feed their children except that a miracle of help arrive from the outside.

* Another is for medicines, hygiene kits and food items for people who are fleeing an armed conflict in their home country and have crossed a border into another with nothing but what they could carry.

* Still another is for water systems in an area of South Asia where people have to walk an average of 1.5 miles daily in order just to get to a tap.

* And yet another is for 1,800 homes to be rebuilt in an area where, because of religious persecution, almost 50,000 people had their homes burnt to the ground.

Tired to the bone? I probably don't really know the meaning. Especially when I look at my life compared to others.

Lord, may I find my rest and my strength in You so that I can serve others who are really tired to the bone...

Monday, August 13, 2012

Redemption revisited...

As followers of Jesus Christ, we are the amazing beneficiaries of God's redemption. We have literally been "bought back" or "redeemed" with a price - which is the blood of Christ. According to the Bible, we all deserve death. It is a just payment for the sin that separates us from God. However, God in His great glory and grace has paid for us the debt of sin. Not only for us but for all who will believe and trust in Jesus' provisions made through the cross. It is because of Jesus we sing and proclaimed, "I have been redeemed!"

But even though there is a "once and for all" redemption of what Jesus did on the cross, I constantly find myself in need of redemption. I need redemption from my bad choices. I need redemption from the difficulties I face. I even need redemption from my persistent worldly nature.

It is strangely comforting to read and know the whole stories of the great men of faith in the Bible. Those we think of - Abraham, Moses, David, etc. - when we think of faith and obedience to God - also are great examples of what it means to be human. In a peculiar way, it gives me hope for my life.

Moses - the humblest man that ever lived, follower of God, leader of Israel - was disqualified from entering the promised land because of a simple act of disobedience. David - a singer of praises, a beloved king, a man after God's own heart - even continued to make sinful choices into his old age and yet God, His Redeemer, watched over him.

I thank God for the redemption provided by Jesus and the cross. I am a walking dead man without it (and in some respects, even with it). But I also thank God for the continuous redemption He provides when I make poor choices, bad decisions, and choose selfish directions in life. I am glad that God is still in the business of redemption - He has saved me. But I am also glad that He is in the business of on-going redemption - He is patient in helping to mold me into the image of His Son, Jesus.

I believe with all my heart that God desires to see eternal redemption through Christ for every living soul. And I believe that when we allow that first and ultimate act of redemption to occur - the covering of our sin and self by Jesus' blood - we can truly begin a process that He continually "redeems" us from our selves to be conformed to His glorious image.

I guess I'm saying that I am thankful for His "once and for all" redemption as well as His continual redemption process.

Amen.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

When's the Last Time You Ministered to Jesus?

A friend (KC) shared from her heart yesterday a story that literally moved me to tears. She told about being in a situation where she could have helped a person in need but chose rather to "lecture" them about their need and what they should do about it instead. Shortly thereafter, she was convicted about what she did and tried to find that person to help them but couldn't. The opportunity was gone.

First of all, I thank her for being willing and vulnerable enough to share her story. If we were honest with ourselves, we have all had situations like this in our lives one time or another. Secondly, I hope I haven't shared too much of her story because I know that she plans to write about it as well. :)

When confronted with people in need, I tend to fall back on my cultural and family upbringing understanding of poverty/need. I tend to think, "if you get your hair cut and get a job, you won't be in need." It has always worked for me. Why won't it work for everyone else? However, I would challenge us to think about those in need and those who ask help from us in a different perspective...

1. We really cannot fully understand another person's situation in life and all the things that went into them getting there. We can speculate, we can judge (from our perspective), and we can theorize about what caused their need, but since we're not them, we can not really grasp the full story.

2. God did not call us to judge the needs of others but rather to help those in need. Some will argue that we are to be "wise stewards" of our resources. I agree wholeheartedly and would argue that a part of being a wise steward would be to follow God's command and be open-handed to the poor.

3. The greatest thing we can give to those in need is not really our money but ourselves. I find this to be extremely uncomfortable because it is easy to give something and walk away. I can then feel good about myself but not be obligated too much to a long term commitment. I find it more difficult to stop, take time, listen and try to help find a more sustainable solution to the need of the person in question.

4. We cannot solve all the world's problems but we can decide to help with the ones that are close to us.

5. Remember that at anytime, you might be entertaining an angel. :)

6. Finally, from a Biblical standpoint, when we help those in need, we really are ministering to Christ. (Matthew 25:35-40)

So, when is the last time that you ministered to (or had a chance to minister to) Jesus Christ? "Wait a minute," you ask, "when did we have a chance to minister to Jesus?"

Jesus says...

"For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat;
I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink;
I was a stranger and you took Me in;
I was naked and you clothed Me;
I was sick and you took care of Me;
I was in prison and you visited Me."

"I assure you: Whatever you did for the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me." 

Monday, July 30, 2012

Many Gifts, One Ministry...

Most of us are blessed with differing gifts and talents. We have also been blessed with different jobs, abilities, etc. Pick any two people and you will have different opinions, likes, and dreams in life. While it is true we all have these differing leanings and we are diverse as diverse can be, if we are followers of Jesus Christ, we have only one ministry: the ministry of reconciliation.

For some reason in His infinite wisdom, God has provided a way of salvation through His Son Jesus Christ. And, in turn, He has entrusted to us the job as His ambassadors to the rest of the world.

"Everything is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: That is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed the message of reconciliation to us. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, certain that God is appealing through us. We plead on Christ's behalf, 'Be reconciled to God.' He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." (2 Corinthians 5:18-21)

So, you may be a plumber or a preacher. You might be a school teacher or a street sweeper. You might be employed or unemployed. You might like vanilla ice cream or chocolate. As co-followers of Jesus, you and I can be and are different in so many ways with the exception of one: We are called to be His ambassadors with the ministry of reconciliation proclaiming, "be reconciled (right) with God", in all that we say or do.

There are things I "do" for a living. There are things I "do" because I enjoy them. There are things I "do" because honestly my mind is in neutral and I "do" them. In the ultimate reality of God's Kingdom, all that I "do" should be about making Him known and leading people to see their status with God and the need to be reconciled to Him now and forever.

Thus, why do I choose to live a life (as best as possible) according to Biblical truths and standards? It is not only for my benefit but also a way to have a chance to say to those watching, "be reconciled to God!"

Why do I choose to care for the poor and needy? It is not only because God commands it and the compassion of Christ that drives me, but it is also an opportunity to speak truth into their lives and say, "be reconciled to God!"

Why do love my wife and children according to Biblical standards and live a lifestyle that our culture may or may not understand? Again, it's all about saying to a world in need of a right relationship to its Creator, "be reconciled to God!"

Whatever we do, we are to do it all to God's glory, to make His glory known and to say to a world so desperately searching for meaning, "be reconciled to God!"

And here's the kicker. We're not doing it on our behalf. We do it and we literally plead on behalf of Christ...

"Be reconciled to God!"

Friday, July 27, 2012

It's All About Giving God His Due Glory...

The Apostle Paul says in his letter to the church at Corinth that whatever we do, we are to do it for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). While this is a simple statement, it has profound implications and a deep truth for our everyday lives.

The reason we are to do everything - period - is ultimately for the glory of God. God has created, sustained and is moving all towards a great consummation of the ages. He and He alone deserves glory. There is no one or nothing else that has been or ever will be that deserves glory like Him.

John Piper says that the reason missions exists is because worship doesn't. To paraphrase, the reason we share our faith and what God has done for us is so that others may see, worship and give God His due glory. Missions exists because people need to know that God and God alone is worthy and rightfully due our honoring of Him, His Name, His will. Consequently, our good deeds exist also so that God will receive His due glory.

So, what is the real reason we help people have food, water, and shelter? To make God's glory known!

Why do we love those in need? To make God's glory known.

Why are we witnesses to what God has done in our lives? Again, to make His glory known.

This is why when we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give water to the thirsty, and we do these things in the Name of Jesus, we are making His glory known.

The prophet Isaiah said, "...and if you offer yourself to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted one, then your light will shine in the darkness..." (Isaiah 58:10) And our light will shine for only one purpose: to point others to the glory of God!

It is comforting to note that my life is not just some series of random events. It is also comforting to know that my life is not really about me. That would be pretty small if it were. I (and you) have a higher purpose...

So..."whatever I/you/we do, do everything for the God's glory." 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

For the Foreigner, Fatherless and Widow...

In Deuteronomy chapter 5, after the giving of the ten commandments (which most folks are familiar with), God through Moses gives an exposition of what it means to follow the commandments (chapter 6 and following to the end of the book). He expands the commandments out to practical living and tells Israel what it looks like for them to become His holy, set-apart community. There are rites and rituals, laws and commands, dos and don'ts, etc., given to help them, if they follow, to become the model community He desires for them.

It is interesting to note that these chapters are filled with social issues and responsibility. Not surprisingly they echo the "Shema" (Deuteronomy 6:4-6) where loving the Lord your God with all your heart is paralleled with practically not only following His laws but loving your fellow Israelite. Jesus summed it up when asked the greatest commandment. He said, "Love God and love your neighbor." (Matthew 22:37-40 paraphrased)

So, Deuteronomy 6 and following is a treatise on how to be a holy people set apart by and for God the Father. In short, Israel was to...

* Follow God with all their heart
* Obey his law and be obedient
* Honor God with their resources
* Treat fairly their neighbor

There is obviously much more in these chapters but there is a strange phrase that keeps poking its head up and it is...

"...for the foreigner, the fatherless, and the widow."

Loving God requires us to love others as ourselves and as He loves them. Moreover, we cannot miss the fact that God has a special place in His heart for those who are least able to help themselves. The foreigners were aliens, refugees if you will, living among the Israelites who generally had no citizenship, voice or influence. They were pretty much at the mercy of the Hebrews. The fatherless were the orphans who had no family or in some cases, no inheritance and thus no hope. They needed someone to care for them. And the widows were those who were in many cases left alone to fend for them selves and were at the mercy of the greater community.

God said when we remember these "least" of all in society, it brings about God's blessing on the work of our hands (Deuteronomy 24:19). And we should remember them because we are what we are because of His blessings and nothing else (Deuteronomy 24:22). Furthermore, He commands us to care for these: the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow (Deuteronomy 24:22b).

Our devotion and worship of God is required and many of us are good at this (or at least attending a church service somewhere). But our care for those who can't care for themselves is also just as important (according to God's Word).

So, my question for today is...

"What have I done and what am I doing for the least of these: the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow?" 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

When Eleven Days turns into Forty Years...

As the family of Jacob was coming out of decades of captivity in Egypt and marching towards God's promised land, God had them in a crucible that was molding them into the nation of Israel and a people wholly belonging to Himself. It was nothing short of miraculous how God brought them out of Egypt and started them on the journey from the land of Goshen to the Promised Land. However, the Bible tells us in Deuteronomy that it was normally an eleven day journey from Horeb (the mountain of sacrifice) to Kadesh-barnea (the gateway into the Promised Land). Yet, it took them all of 40 years to make that 11 day journey.

Part of this was due to Israel's disobedience along the way. Another part had to do with Israel's lack of faith to trust God to keep His Word. I see the most of it as God's timing. Israel was not ready to step into God's promise and needed more time to develop as a people. The 40 years in the wilderness was pretty much running laps around Mt. Sinai. But during that time, the nation learned to depend on God like never before and they learned how to fight and survive in hardened conditions. In the wilderness, they were totally helpless apart from the provisions of God: food from heaven (manna and quail), water from unlikely sources (rocks, desert sands, etc.) and clothing that never wore out. Learning total dependency on God. But they also learned how to be a community and how to go to war along the way as well. All a part of God's plan...

I want a lot of things and it would be nice if they came in 11 days. However, I find more and more, God needs 40 years (or in my case, much more) to bring me to those things, His promises. I would like to enroll in the "11 Day Step-by-Step Program to be like Jesus." God knows I need and require 40 years or more to even start to come close. I would like an "11 Day to Solve the World's Problem" program. God evidently has a different timetable.

For now, I guess it I need to be content in knowing that God's timing and process is not only different than mine but infinitely better as well. As I wander through my own wildernesses of life, I would do well to learn, like Israel, how to be totally dependent on God and how to go to battle. Maybe then, when I arrive at His Promise, I will be a bit better prepared to enter into it.

Thank you God for your amazing grace and mercy extended to me along my journey. Whether 11 days or 40 years, may I walk well with You.

Selah!


Monday, July 23, 2012

Poverty and Giving...

I just read an article that said poverty in the United States is reaching an all time high since the 1960's. Sometime in the near future, about 16% of Americans will be living at or below the official poverty line. While this number is high and disturbing (especially if you're in that 16%), it is still relatively small in comparison with poverty in other parts of the world such as in developing nations.

These are hard times. We see evidence everywhere we look from more and more people standing on street corners to the legion of foreclosed homes we drive by or see listed in the newspapers. But even those these are hard times, these are also wonderful times for the church and the people of God to step up and care for those in need.

But how do we help in these difficult times? Most of us are feeling the pinch as well due to rising fuel and food costs. There never seems to be enough to go around.

Here are some practical things that you and I can do to help those in need...

1. Plan to give. I encourage first and for most to tithe to your local church that you are involved in. Giving 10% from your first-fruits honors God and blesses you and your family. But above the 10%, I try to set some goals of what we can give as a blessing to others. I won't give any amounts here but it might be that you set a challenge percentage or amount per month to give to those you see in need.

2. Be open handed to the poor. This is very Biblical. True, we can't help everyone. But we can help those we see or come in contact with. Will you be taken advantage of? Maybe. But the rewards of helping far offset the perceived fears of being exploited.

3. Use a "gleanings" mentality (based on Leviticus 19:9-10). I commit to place my pocket change in a container for giving to the World Hunger Fund. I wind up "gleaning" around $20 per month from simple pocket change that I would never miss.

4. Consider giving up something that you won't miss to save money and bless others. A young man I have the pleasure of knowing encourages high school and college students to give up a soft drink each week and use that money to help drill wells in Dar Fur. He calls it "dollar for a drink." Maybe we could give up a meal per week devoting the time in prayer and the resources saved to feed the hungry.

During these hard times, it is hard to set aside funds to help others. But God rewards the generous giver and if we are experiencing hard times, think of those who are living at or below the poverty level.

In 2 Corinthians 8:4, Paul compliments the churches of Macedonia who gave sacrificially out of there poverty and affliction to help others in need. He says that even out of their deep poverty and affliction, "they begged us insistently for the privilege of sharing in the ministry to the saints...".

He then goes on to say, "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: Thought He was rich, for your sake He became poor, so that by His poverty you might become rich." (2 Corinthians 8:9)

Even in hard times, we should be more aware and committed to meeting the needs of others. It honors God, it blesses us (when we bless others) and it demonstrates Christ and leads to opportunity to speak truth into people's lives.

May God bless you as you bless others!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Fickled People...

I am struck by the fickleness of people. I am probably more struck by my own fickled nature. I am even maybe even a bit frustrated at my fickleness.

When Moses is leading the Israelites out of captivity and the come to the wilderness, he lays out God's covenant to them. They have just seen the great deliverance from Egypt and the destruction of Pharaoh's army in the Red Sea. They have seen the cloud by day and pillar of fire by night. They've tasted manna from heaven and drank water from a rock. So when Moses comes before them and tells the people all the commands of the Lord and all the ordinances, the people respond in unity, with resolve in one single voice, "We will do everything that the Lord has commanded!" (Exodus 24:3)

Great picture of obedience and love for God and His laws, correct? Then why just a few days later when God is giving His Law on the mountain, the people turn completely away from God, have Aaron (who is supposed to be maintaining order) cast for them a golden calf idol that they begin to worship, dance and bow down to? I can only think of one word: fickleness!

Actually, I can think of many other words to describe this: sin, carnal nature, superstition - the list goes on. But my first thought is, "how can people be so fickled that at one moment they are praising and worshipping God and the next they are bowing down to idols?"

Here are the lessons....

1. If we take our eyes off God for even a moment, we are subject to the human condition called fickleness. We become more and more like Jesus by gazing into His glory. We tend to become more like ourselves (and the Father of all lies) when we take our eyes off God and place them on things like a golden calf.

2. It is easier to see the fickleness of others than it is to see our own fickleness. Really, I was angered once again when I read through this passage. I kept saying to myself, "How could they do this? Worship God one moment and dance like heathens before an idol the next?" But don't we do the same today (just not in front of a golden calf)? We go to church on Sunday morning, worship and rush to our favorite restaurant (we want to beat the members of that other church who lets out about the same time) while passing by housing projects full of hungry people (both physically and spiritually).  We "do our devotions" in the morning and shortly after we close the covers on our Bible,  we are consumed with the worries of the world and work out of our own strength, ideas and cunning while all the time living as if the God we just read about was some distant and irrelevant figure-head of a nice religion. We, as good standing Christian people, waltz through our whole day, encountering countless numbers of lost people and never once stop to take time to share the gospel. You get the picture...

I am a pretty good person. But I am also a pretty fickled person. I live a life of contrast somewhere between who I know I ought to be and who I really am. I join the Apostle Paul in proclaiming...

"...For the desire to do what is good is with me, but there is no ability to do tit. For I do not do the good that I want to do, but I practice the evil that I do not want to do...So I discover his principle: When I want to do what is good, evil is with me. For in my inner self I joyfully agree with God's law. But I see a different law in the parts of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and taking me prisoner to the law of sin in the parts of my body..." (Romans 7:18-25)

So maybe the core of my spiritual journey is simply stated as this: I need to grow out of my own fickleness...

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Right as Rain...

Do you ever wonder where some of our idioms and catchphrases come from? I do. For instance, the phrase, "right as rain", refers to the fact that everything is perfectly fine or "right".

After a number of weeks without rain and soaring heat setting records in the Nashville area, we finally got some rain the other night and temperatures cooled down a bit. On Monday morning, I woke up to a lawn that had been literally brown the day before and was now sprinkled with splotches of green. Tiny blades of grass had emerged almost as if they were singing praises to the Creator for the water provided.

On the way to work I noticed, what seemed to me, a freshness and cleanness in just about everything I saw. From the roads and the washed away weeks of dust accumulation to the trees and shrubs whose limbs seemed to be a little more straighter and pointing heavenward, I said to myself regarding the world I was seeing that things were as "right as rain".

After the much needed rainfall, everything was right or "right as rain". The world looked much better even hopeful that things would return to normal.

Don't you long for the day that everything is really and forever as "right as rain"? A day when wars will cease, diseases will no longer exist, death and the grave will be defeated once and for all? And the best is that it will all be right for the simple fact that the Righteous One will return and make it all so. And, to those He has chosen and called, to those who have answered, it will all be "right as rain" for eternity to come.

This life is good but surely this isn't the way that it should be. Children shouldn't be hungry. Fathers shouldn't walk out on their families. People shouldn't be enslaved to all kinds of addictions. One class or one ethnicity shouldn't oppress another.

Just like the other morning after the rainfall when everything seemed new, I long for the day that God will intervene in consummation of His plans and make all things "right as rain."

Don't you?

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Bible's Effect on My Life...

Yesterday, I finished reading the through the Bible for the first time this year. I started this morning again in Genesis chapter one because I devotionally try to read it two times per year and have been since my 33rd birthday. I had been reading the Bible through once per year from 18 to 32 years of age but came under conviction to read it at least twice per year. Not for sermons, ideas or for knowledge but to know God (and myself) better.

If I counted right, this last reading finally caught me up with my age so that I have now read the Bible through, as a devotional discipline, once for every year of my life. I'll be 53 soon. Since my "readings" now match my age, I have a couple of reflections that I would like to share regarding the effects that I have seen God's Word have on my life...

1. If I live a lot longer and read it 53 more times or 103 more times or even a thousand, it will always be new and fresh and God will always have something new to teach me.

2. God's word never changes. On the contrary, the more I read it, the more it seems to be changing me. After all it is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword. :)

3. The more I know and delve into God's word, the more passionate I become for people and their eternal destination as well as compassionate and concerned with people and their physical suffering. I guess you could say that His word working in our lives increases our love for Him and for others.

4. I am more convinced of my own depravity and sinfulness. His word is a mirror into my soul and being and its light reveals the hidden things of my heart; even the things I try to hide from myself.

5. The more I know the word of God, the more I love God Himself.

6. Sometimes I do stumble and sleepwalk through my devotional reading of His word but He gently and sometimes not-so-gently wakes me up with an amazing truth through the discipline of reading and the prompting of His Spirit.

As the Psalmist says, "Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path..."

I can't wait to see what He is going to teach me in the next 53 readings...




Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Great Compassion Baptists...

Recently, at the Southern Baptist Convention in New Orleans, our body of Baptists voted to keep the name "Southern Baptist Convention" but give the option for folks to use the qualifying descriptor, "Great Commission Baptists" to refer to ourselves. I thought that it might even be more fitting to call ourselves, "Great Commission" and "Great Compassion" Baptists. Because, no matter what we call ourselves, what we do and who we are is far more important. And, in my humble opinion, we are noted  as a missions and a compassionate people. Southern Baptists: People who care for people, both spiritually and physically.

This Sunday, I'll be pinch hitting in Sunday School and teaching our class here in Mt. Juliet. I have decided to talk about Baptist distinctives and a bit of Southern Baptist history. When I shared this with the regular teacher (who'll be out of town), I think he was glad that he wouldn't be there. :)

As I've gone over materials this week, I've reread parts of "Global Mission" by Winston Crawley. I just finished chapter 13 (one of my favorite of all time) entitled, "What About Human Need?" Dr. Crawley states,...

"From the beginning, Southern Baptist foreign missions ministries have been holistic; that is, the have addressed the whole person in an actual life situation, not just the soul. Even though there has sometimes been a tendency in the United States to polarize evangelism and ministries to physical or social needs, as if they were opposed to each other, that has seldom been the case in overseas missions. Compassionate attention to all kinds of human need has been more typical. Note, for example, the school for girls started by Henrietta Hall Shuck in Hong Kong, the appointment of a Southern Baptist missionary physician in 1846 (My note: the SBC was formed in 1845), and the sharing of food with famine-stricken people by Lottie Moon (and many other missionaries). Missionaries quite naturally reached out in Christian love to relive the intense physical and material suffering of those around them."

More recently, growing up at Trace Creek Baptist Church in New Johnsonville, TN, I can remember two distinct "mantras" of Southern Baptists: "Bold mission thrust" and "Southern Baptist, people who care." In retrospect, these are a couple of major things that shaped my early theology and Baptist identity. We are a missions people and we care about people.

I tell people that I have the best job in the world. By the grace of God and the good support of Southern Baptists, I get to help people and help them hear about Jesus. And to me, in my frame of reference, you can't get any more Southern Baptist than that!

Helping people; making God known....

Great Compassion and Great Commission Baptists...

Makes sense.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Reflections on the Southern Baptist Convention...

I just returned yesterday from New Orleans and the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Each year, BGR is allowed to staff a booth in the exhibits and displays area. This year, in our display, we focused on the Japan relief efforts, hunger in Africa, the BGR Kits for Kids project and medical/health care ministries.

Our display was well received. We had good interaction with the convention messengers who stopped by to talk about various things. One interesting thing is that most people tend to know BGR now. A few years ago as we started BGR, we receive a lot of, "who are you.." questions. This year many would say, "I know BGR. Our church has done a project with you!" It was really nice to hear. 

Also, during the IMB's report by the president, Dr. Tom Elliff, BGR received a compliment and "plug" for the work we do. Dr. and Mrs. Elliff and I had made a trip together to the Horn of Africa last November. He got to see first hand the way that hunger, relief and health care projects are critical to Kingdom work and has become a great advocate for BGR. Moreover, he got to follow up that trip with a trip to Japan and see the devastation and work there to help the Japanese Baptists in their recovery efforts. 

Several milestones were achieved during the SBC this year in New Orleans. If you didn't know, Southern Baptists elected their first African American president, Fred Luter, Jr. We also voted to keep our name as the "Southern Baptist Convention" but with a "qualifier" to those who wanted to use it: "Great Commission Baptists." 

But one of the most encouraging things to me was the excitement from many of the younger leaders who are passionate about social justice issues such as widows and orphans, human trafficking, hunger, etc. Nobody asked me, but I think a better descriptor of who we are as Southern Baptists would be...

"Southern Baptist Convention: Great Commission and Great Compassion Baptists"

Seeing what I saw this past week, this would probably be a more accurate description.


Thursday, June 14, 2012

WHY WOULD YOU GIVE TO ANY CHARITY OTHER THAN THE SOUTHERN BAPTIST WORLD HUNGER FUND?


I ran into an interesting article the other day in Fox News. It was very enlightening in regard to celebrities and their favorite charities they promote.

A reliable charity watch-dog group that also looks at organizations such as ours, Baptist Global Response (BGR), reported that some of the best-known celebrity charities send only 20% to 30% of donations to meet actual needs. Up to 70% is spent on salaries, marketing/advertising, and overhead costs!

I’ll not name names here (you can read the article at the link below), but I suspect many of these famous people would speak negatively about a “World Hunger Fund” that is connected to Southern Baptists -- even though our WHF sends 100% of every donation straight to helping people in need.

You read that right! The Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund (SBWHF) is a “dollar in, dollar out” vehicle to help hungry people all around the world. Not one penny is taken out for our administrative costs. Our salaries and operating expenses are already covered by the generosity of Southern Baptists through giving channels such as the Cooperative Program.

When you give a dollar to the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund, you can be sure a dollar will be spent somewhere in the world to alleviate hunger or address hunger-related issues. 

WHF donations are allocated 80% to causes overseas, while 20% is used within North America. Baptist Global Response administers and oversees the international portion, and the North American Mission Board (NAMB) oversees the domestic component. Both these organizations are blessed with other sources of income for operations, so the World Hunger Fund can be used 100% for what it was designed to do: address hunger needs.

So here’s my question. Whether you’re a Southern Baptist or not -- whether you’re a follower of Jesus, a Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, agnostic, atheist, etc. -- why wouldn’t you give to something like the “dollar in, dollar out” Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund?

To learn more about the World Hunger Fund and opportunities to give, visit:


To read the full article about celebrity charities referred to in my post, you can visit the website…