Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Elisabeth's Story...

Her name is Elisabeth. They call her Ma’am Elisabeth. She is the principal at the only school on the island of Gibitgnil. She has the respect of the whole community and her students in that she had brought the small school in Gibitngil from a grade one through six school to one that goes all the way through the 12th grade. This is very important to the 2,500 residents of the islands. This means that their children can stay at home until fourth year high school and not have to go off the island everyday to go to school once they reach the seventh grade.

Ma’am Elisabeth and her school had a huge setback when typhoon Yolanda swept through their island. Not only did they lose many of their homes and small government offices, several of the structures at the local school were destroyed or damaged. She was worried how she would convince anyone to come help her school since they were so small and isolated.

A member of the BGR Rapid Assistance Team, Dwain Carter, came to her island and was moved by what he saw. He agreed to try and help rally resources to their aid. Dwain is not only a Pastor in Missouri but also the State Disaster Relief Coordinator as well.

This past week, I saw Dwain helping to fulfill his promise to Ma’am Elisabeth. He had some back with a disaster relief team from Missouri and supplies provided by Southern Baptists. They were working under hard conditions to help restore the school and still smiled as they worked.

Ma’am Elisabeth had taken a week off to work on her own house but when she saw Pastor Dwain coming back, she decided to help with the school reconstruction. She is very appreciative of Dwain, his group and the help provided by Southern Baptists to assist in the rebuilding of their school and keeping their children on their island until they are ready for college.

Everyone is sacrificing a lot to help the Philippines recovery effort. But it is worth it for the glory of God.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Parade of Volunteers Helping to Rebuild in the Philippines...

One is a farmer. One is a former State Representative. Others include a retired mailman, a State Agriculturist, a writer and a pastor. They even have one who is a “jack of all trades.” This is the team of State Disaster relief volunteers who have come from Missouri to help with the rebuilding of a school on the island of Gibitngil, Philippines.

They labor under the hot tropical sun. They work in a place with no electricity and scarce water resources. They are having to use hand tools and confess they are much more used to power tools. But in the midst of the challenges and the frustrations, they are all smiles especially when it comes to relating to the local people.

They are “heroes” of sorts; at least to the local people there. They came to the small island a few days ago and brought with them materials to help rebuild the local school that was partially destroyed by the recent typhoon.

As they arrived by a small boat, they began to unload the materials such as wood and tin roofing and looked up the steep incline to the school almost a mile away. It was going to be a long walk hauling those materials. They were anticipating taking most of the day to haul the materials but something happened. The villagers and mostly the school children themselves began to take the materials and carry them to the building site. The disaster relief volutneers picked up loads as well and began joining in the “parade”.  What seemed to be a daunting task turned into a parade of foreigners and locals working together to bring the needed construction supplies to the local school.

One of the volunteers described the scene as a festive occasion. The local people were happy to see the help come and they were happy to join in the efforts to rebuild their beloved school.

Thank you Southern Baptists for providing funds for the rebuilding of Gibitnil school. And thank you Southern Baptists for coming and help to rebuild.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

So Much to be Thankful For...

I have so much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving...

I am going to have a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner this Thursday complete with turkey, cranberries and pumpkin pie while almost 1 billion people in the world, that's one out of every seven, live day to day in chronic hunger.

I am going to spend this Thanksgiving holiday in a warm, comfortable home with all the best of modern conveniences when over 2.4 billion people live in poverty which is defined as making less than $2.50 per day. Moreover, 1.2 billion live in absolute poverty meaning they live on less than $1.25 per day.

I am going to take my family and make a relatively short trip to my sister's house to celebrate together with parents, children, brothers and sisters a day set aside to give thanks while 40 million people have fled their homes due to famine, war, or other man made/natural disasters. Nine million of those have fled their homes in Syria seeking shelter wherever they may find it and in many cases losing all contact with whatever family they might have.

Whenever I want a drink of water this weekend, I will simply open a tap in my home and get a glassful not worrying whether it is safe to drink or not while still over 1 billion people in the world lack the simple privilege of clean drinking water.

And I will worship this weekend in a church of my choice (and there are a lot to choose from in middle Tennessee) with no fear of reprisal or persecution while over 90% of the world is lost and almost 6,000 people groups still have little or no access to the gospel.

Thank You, Lord. I am truly blessed. May I never take Your blessings for granted. And, may I be so thankful that I purpose to be a blessing to others.

"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."
(Jesus in John 25:35-3)


Thursday, November 21, 2013

When Jesus Walked Past a Need...

Remember the story from Acts 3 about the healing of a lame man by Peter and John? It is about a man, lame from birth, who was carried every day to the temple gate called Beautiful in Jerusalem so that he could beg from those going up to pray. When Peter and John passed by, he asked for help. And Peter along with John looked at him and said, 'I don't have silver or gold, but what I have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk!' And with that, they took him by the right hand and raised him up and at once, his ankles and feet became strong. He jumped up, stood and started to walk. He entered the temple complex walking, leaping and praising God!

It's a great story, right? But have you ever thought about the fact that if this man sat at the temple gate for every day for all those years, he must have seen Jesus pass once or twice? So the question is why didn't he ask help from Jesus. Or even more disturbing (from my feeble human standpoint) is why didn't Jesus stop and meet the needs of this individual? Surely He has passed him by. Surely He had seen him. And surely, Jesus knew the man's need.

There are several possibilities...

* Maybe Jesus never came near this man. I think this highly unlikely so let's move on to the next theory.

* There seems to be a "seeking" requirement in many of the healings in the New Testament. In other words, those healed are ones seeking Jesus, the power of the Spirit. While not exactly true in every case, generally, most people were seeking answers/healing from God when they were restored to health. So maybe when the lame man saw Jesus the times He passed by, at that time, there was no desire to seek healing and no "readiness" on the part of the lame man.

* It may have been that the lame man didn't really know who Jesus was and what He had to offer. This one is hard to imagine considering how Jesus' fame had spread through the land at the time.

* Maybe it wasn't God's timing for the healing to take place until John and Peter went up to pray. I've shared before that we as humans live bound in "kronos" time whereas God (the maker of "kronos" time) has His own "kairos" timetable. It could be, like the blind man healed in John chapter 9, that the healing took place at God's proper time so that, 'God's works might be displayed in him.'

To be honest, I am not sure why Jesus would have walked by this particular man in need and not stop to help Him. I would assume that there also were many others who were not healed as well though many sought Him. Moreover, just as there were multitudes who still did not believe in Him while He was on earth, there were also throngs who are not healed. Why?

It is a difficult question.

One thing I do know is that when Jesus healed, compassion was always a component of that healing. He was moved for the hurting, the helpless and the homeless. He had a mission for proclaiming in word and in deed that the Kingdom of God had come. He came to seek and to save that which was lost and He came to give abundant life.

In short, I don't know why Jesus may have walked by this particular person in need or even others during His time on earth and not stop. I do know that He and the Father knows best and nothing escaped or will ever escape His notice and that His thoughts and ways are so much higher than mine that I have to trust Him even when I don't understand.

Maybe it is a good lesson for me as I go about helping in international disaster response and community development. Maybe I can alleviate myself of the burden that I have to meet every need I see. Maybe.

"Lord, give me the ability to see and meet needs of those in my path today. Give me also the peace to accept the things I can't do and can't change."


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

What Would Jesus Do in the Philippines?

By now, everyone of us have seen the pictures, videos and stories coming out of the Philippines and the terrific devastation wrought by super storm Haiyan (Yolanda). Over 4,000 people confirmed dead, several hundred thousand homeless and over 10 million displaced. The race by the Philippines government and international organizations to help is often seemingly a "running in place race" when a disaster of this magnitude occurs. Huge masses of people are suffering and cut off from the basics such as water, food, shelter and health care. And no matter how many resources we pour into the area, especially in these early days, it seems like only a drop in the bucket. It is mind boggling, the overwhelming need, and, if we are not careful, it can lead to a paralysis of action. It is just too massive...

I have a word of encouragement and hope. It is to you (and me) and especially to our BGR teams who are already on ground responding. They have been at it a little over a week and we can already hear the strain in their voices and the frustration of not being able to help everyone.

Here is my word today for you (and me)...

Jesus did not heal crowds, He healed individuals. He had compassion on the masses. He was moved by them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. But in every instance we see in the Bible, He ministered and healed individuals.

As we go about this great and sometimes heavy task of disaster relief and community development, I pray that we don't see the forests so much that we forget to see the trees. I pray that we, like Christ, be moved by the crowds in need but cognizant enough to stop and help the individual and individuals that God brings to us. 

I have prayed for all of us today…especially our BGR team in the Philippines. And I continue to pray that God doesn't let us grow weary in well doing and that God gives us His Spirit and the presence of mind to stop and help the person in front of us.

God, help us to have compassion on those in need and give us the strength to meet the need in front of us today.

If you have some time, please visit our website and see what God is doing through Southern Baptists in the Philippines at: 



Thursday, November 7, 2013

Our Current Cultural Storm...

"Internal forces are already weakening the tree of evangelicalism in the United States, but in coming decades United States evangelicals will be tested as never before, by the ripping and tearing of external cultural change - a force more violent than many of us suspect." John S. Dickerson in "The Great Evangelical Recession"

There is a storm brewing. In fact, it is already here. We're seeing the first wave of the arrival of the storm but it is going to get worse, by far. It is a cultural wave here in the US that minimizes, trivializes  and even criminalizes Biblical beliefs. It is a wave that embraces life and lifestyles that were unimaginable only a generation ago. It is coming...and...it is here already.

Individuals who stand for Biblical principles feel it. Churches, who may not know it, are already feeling it. Evangelical conventions and denominations are caught up in its swirl and are trying to make sense out of it. But it is here and it pulling downward on our faith, values and things we hold dear.

But I have some good news...

God is on His throne. And He is not unaware. In fact, I have faith that He is at work in all of these things...

"Though the fig tree does not bud and there is no fruit on the vines, thought the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will triumph in Yahweh; I will rejoice in the God of my salvation!" (Habakkuk 3:17)

"My salvation and glory depend on God, my strong rock. My refuge is in God." (Psalm 62:7)

"Look to the nations and observe - be utterly astounded. For something is taking place in your days that you will not believe..." (Habakkuk 1:5)

Whatever may come - the collapse of all values, the marginalization of the church, the oppression of those who stand up for Biblical beliefs - I know that one day, every knee will bow and every tongue confess. And in that day, we will see...

"...a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb...and they cried out, 'Salvation belongs to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!" (Revelation 7:91-10)


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Don't Forget Syria...

My heart and soul are disturbed today. I am thinking again about Syria and the ongoing crisis there. I just read some new statistics that not only stirred me but also brought back images of families, real people, whom I visited just a few weeks ago...

There are now over 9 million internally displaces peoples and refugees in and around Syria. That's out of a total population of 22 million. This means that 2 in every 5 Syrians have had to flee their homes and seek shelter and refugee in some other place.

Over one million Syrians have sought refuge in neighboring Lebanon where there are no official Syrian refugee camps. They are living in hovels, tents and temporary shelters; wherever they can find. And they are bracing for yet another oncoming winter. They are dealing with contagious infections like leishmaniasis and scabies on a scale that is unimaginable. They have all experience extreme trauma. I remember the story of one mother who told how her husband was killed right in front of her and her children.

Over 600,000 refugees are in Turkey. Another 600,000 in Jordan. And the list goes on and on...

And we through BGR continue to respond. It only costs $50 to provide a food packet to a family of 5. This food packet helps them get through a month. We also are providing a hygiene kit for $20 that providing essentials such as diapers, candles, matches and personal hygiene items.

Our most recent project with partners there is attempting to get some of the refugee children back in a school setting. Many of the children are entering their third year with no formal education. BGR is helping to provide backpacks full of school materials to children and some needed classroom equipment as well as some assistance to local teachers (who are refugees themselves) to get a few children back in school. The refugee families are so excited that they are opening their makeshift homes to serve as temporary classrooms.

So my heart and soul are disturbed. It is easy to forget. It is easy to turn our heads. My plea is that we don't forget what is happening in Syria.

I want to encourage you to take a few minutes and view this video and then see what God would have you do.



Jeff Palmer

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Where Do We Put Our Trust?

Yesterday, I was privileged to be on a conference call with several hundred people from across the US. Baptist Global Response (BGR), as a faith-based international relief and development organization, was invited to interact with some political analysts as they talked about potential impacts on foreign aid programs due to the recent US government shutdown. The good news is that in the short run, food will still get to refugees in Syria, help with go to famine areas in North Africa and immunization programs will still go on for children overseas. The bad news is that if the stalemate continues for a month or more, many of these US government programs that benefit the world's poorest will start to shut down and more and more burden of caring for the hungry and poor will fall on the shoulders of non-government organizations such as BGR.

I won't debate here the pros or cons of cutting international aid versus programs at home. Anyway, at full force, our international development programs constitute no more than 1% of the annual US budget. What I will comment on is that if things continue and the cuts come to US government assistance for the world's most vulnerable, it will present interesting days for organizations like the one I work for.

However, I am not worried. With great problems comes great opportunities. I do have anticipated grief for the 1.0 Billion chronically hungry people around the world. And I do wonder what will happen to the 40 million refugees/internally displaces persons if aid is cut. But I am not worried about what we will do to respond to the potential logarithmic increase in global needs if the US government drops its programs.

Why is that? I go to the scriptures that says...

"Some take pride in chariots, and others in horses, but we trust in the Name of Yahweh our God..." (Psalm 20:7)

You can call it fatalistic thinking. You can call me a "Polyanna". I like to think of it in the simple light that God is in control...yesterday, today and forever. And, in the midst of impending unsurmountable problems, He is still and forever will be on His throne.

So, in the midst of overwhelming odds against us, in the midst of a government shutdown, and in the midst of barriers so high that we can't even imagine seeing over them...

"...We trust in the Name of the Lord our God."

Monday, October 7, 2013

Just Enough...

In the latter part of the book of Proverbs, Agur the oracle prays what might seem a strange prayer to us today...

"...Give me neither poverty nor wealth; feed me with the food I need. Otherwise, I might have too much and deny You, saying, 'Who is the Lord?' or I might have nothing and steal, profaning the name of my God." (Proverbs 30:8-9)

Just enough. That's what he prays for in his life. Not too much to take my eyes off the dependency that all of us need in God but not too little to prompt me to do something dishonest and thus disgrace the Name.

Jesus said pretty much the same thing when He taught His disciples a model prayer...

"Give us today our daily bread..." (Matthew 6:11)

Give us our necessary bread for today and tomorrow. No more no less.

Here is the spiritual truth. Sometimes my wealth of resources causes me to look away from God and His provisions. It cause me to look to my own resources, ideas and plans. I, in effect, become my own savior, the one in whom I put my trust.

Now none of us would ever say that verbally or admit it aloud. However, as our parents always taught us, actions speak louder than words.

I have the privilege and the humbling experience to see and work with believers worldwide who really don't have many earthly resources at all. Especially when compared to myself. Yet I find in most cases a rich faith in those who have learned to be dependent on God for their daily bread. In many cases, a deeper faith than I seem to be able to muster.

Honestly, I am uncomfortable with this verse and prayer. But I also know that there is nothing in the whole universe worth trusting more than the One who created it all. So, with much trepidation, I pray today...

"...Give me neither poverty nor wealth; feed me with the food I need. Otherwise, I might have too much and deny You, saying, 'Who is the Lord?' or I might have nothing and steal, profaning the name of my God."


Friday, October 4, 2013

True Wisdom and Understanding...

When we served in the Philippines, I noticed that during prayer times, I had some Filipino leaders and mentors who would always pray asking for wisdom and understanding. They asked for themselves in order to be good leaders in their respective ministries. I heard it so much, it became second nature to me as well. So most of you who know me have probably heard me (when asked about prayer requests) ask for, "wisdom and understanding", probably several times.

The writer of the Proverbs tells us a simple yet profound truth regarding these two. He tells us where wisdom begins and what understanding (or "true knowledge") is...

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom...

...and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding." (Proverbs 9:10)

There are a lot of things the world today deems wise. There are many who will try to say this or that is the key to true knowledge. The writer of Proverbs makes it clear:

True wisdom begins when we fear and submit to God.

True knowledge and understanding comes from knowing and following Him.

So, I ask today that you pray for me to have wisdom and understanding in all that I say in do. That my wisdom and understanding will be rooted in fearing God and knowing Him.

I also ask you to pray for those in our church leadership, government, workplace, schools, etc., to have true wisdom and true understanding.


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

What Does the Lord Value?

I like to think of myself as a productive guy. I am relatively hard working. I believe my work and ministry has an eternal and Kingdom perspective. I make decisions daily that help people all around the world have better access to food and basic needs as well as facilitate proclamation of the gospel to many who have never heard. All in all, pretty impressive in some circles.

However, as impressive as I may seem to myself, I am not sure that any of this impresses God. In fact, I'm pretty sure that it doesn't. You see...

"He is not impressed by the strength of a horse; He does not value the power of a man. The Lord values those who fear Him, those who put their hope in His faithful love." (Psalm 147:10-11)

It's not that complex. God desires our hearts, our obedience and our submission, not our sacrifices. He desires us and our love, not the things that we can "do" for Him.

In an amazingly complex world that shouts at us confusing values..."Be this. Do that. Act this way to be accepted." None of this impresses or is valued by the One who matters the most: the Creator of Heaven and Earth.

A lonely prophet by the name of Micah captured it best when he said...

"Mankind, He has told you what is good and what it is the Lord requires of you: to act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:8)

Ironically, the most valuable and impressive thing that you or I could ever do is to simply love God and put our hope and trust in His faithful love for us. This kind of runs perpendicular to my human nature that seems to always wants to do more for God. And yet what He really wants is not my deeds but my worship and my heart.


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The God of the Helpless...

If you've read the headlines in the news this morning, you saw, "Let the Shut Down Begin." Our US government, who couldn't reach a deal on the current budget, has basically come to a stand still. Services of national security and interest will continue but many "non-essential" (a federal government term, not mine) workers will be simply told to go home today. Their departments are non-functioning. These are departments such as federal park workers and those who help deliver things such as social services.

In comparison, I read Psalm 146 again this morning. It is a Psalm exalting the God of compassion. It talks of our God as a God that never abandons His post and is always on the side of the helpless. There is no crisis with Him. There is never any shut down. He is always on His throne and He is always Lord of all. 

The Psalmist extols the reader to remember...

"Happy is the one whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea and everything in them. He remains faithful forever, executing justice for the exploited and giving food to the hungry..." (Psalm 146:5-7)

Some may live in a country that cannot agree on a budget and even at times not pay its bills. But we serve a God who never shuts down, remains faithful forever, and is always executing justice for the exploited and hungry. We serve a God who refreshingly has an unshakeable kingdom.

"The Lord (our Lord) frees prisoners. The Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord raises up those who are oppressed. The Lord loves the righteous. The Lord protects foreigners and helps the fatherless and the widow, but He frustrates the ways of the wicked." (Psalm 146:7-9)

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Beautiful on the Outside...

This past week, I was in the Middle East visiting some BGR projects that were helping Syrian refugees with basic food items, hygiene supplies and medicines. There are now maybe close to 2 million Syrians who have left their country seeking safe refuge for their families. While there are several in a few large refugee camps, the majority are living wherever they can find or put up temporary shelter.

On the first day, we went to deliver some food and hygiene packages to several families. I thought the first place we pulled up to was a mistake. It was a three-storied beautiful mansion. I chuckled to myself thinking that the local partner had taken a wrong turn. However, as we stopped, a stream of children and a few adults poured out of the house. Upon closer inspection, I saw that the house was only a shell: beautiful on the outside but pretty much empty and bare on the inside.

It was very much unfinished and four Syrian families had worked out a deal with the homeowner to stay there and guard the place as well as take care of the grounds. There was no electricity, water and the whole inside was unfinished concrete. Nevertheless, the families had each chosen a room apiece and turned it into their makeshift home.

This is a great parallel to everything we saw last week during the trip. Many communities look good on the outside, from the road as we drive by. But all you have to do is stop and look a bit closer.

You find family after family that has had to flee their homes. They are living in unused houses, abandoned sheds, garages, and even makeshift tents. They are living basically anywhere they can find relatively safe shelter. And on the outside, they look like they are okay. But on the inside, they are broken, afraid, hungry and sick.

They want to go home but they cannot. They want their children to go to school but it is not possible. All of them have family and friends who are still in Syria and they wonder what has happened to them.

I thought as we were leaving, am I sometimes like this? Beautiful on the outside. Everything seems great in my life, no problems, smooth sailing...But on the inside, there really is an unseen struggle, conflict and heartache.

Jesus called the religious leaders of his days, "whitewashed tombs." I pray that my heart will always be moved for those in need like the ones visited last week...

Thursday, September 5, 2013

A Prayer From Partners in Syria

I am on my way home, finishing up a trip where I've been visiting our relief projects with Syrian refugees. I am overwhelmed by the needs that we saw on this trip and amazed at the courage and boldness of our partners who are distributing food, medicines, and making their faith known in word and in deed.

As I go home, I can retreat to the safety and comfort of my house. However, the people I leave still are dealing with the fact that they cannot go home. Over 5 million people have been displaced by this terrible tragedy. Two million have fled the country while at least 3 million are displaced in country. The numbers stagger the imagination.

As we were meeting with communities living in exile and watching our partners give food and hope to so many, I heard one of our partners make this prayer request....

"Pray that the believers here will stand fast in the face of persecution. We are like the three who were in the fire but not consumed. It is like we have chains around us, trying to cripple us. But God wants to break those chains. The chains are fear that constrict us. But our vision is that when this war is over, we can all go back and help rebuild our people and share God's love."

Please pray for peace in Syria. Please pray that God would use His faithful servants to help bring healing and the message of hope to so many in need.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Becoming What You Pursue...

In 2 Kings 17, we find the sad story of the fall of the northern Kingdom of Israel. Israel's last King, Hoshea, is defeated by Assyria. Samaria, the capital, falls. The northern 10 tribes of Israel are captured and deported and Israel is no more.

The writer goes on to tell us (2 Kings 17:7-18) as to why this happened. They had sinned against their God. They had worshipped other gods. They lived according to the customs of the ungodly nations. The secretly did wrong and built high places, Asherah poles and served idols. The Lord warned them through His Word and His prophets that they should not do these things yet they continued. And then, the writer states...

"They pursued worthless idols and became worthless themselves..." (2 Kings 17:15)

We serve an infinite, loving God. He loves us so much that He even allows us to choose our ways. We can choose to follow Him. We can choose to reject. While this in no way limits or diminishes the fact that He is all powerful and all knowing, it does create an interesting dilemma for us as a human race.

God seeks, calls and even yearns for us, His creation. Yet He also lovingly places in each of us the capacity to accept or reject His overtures. Love forced upon oneself is never true love. It has to come from a choice, a commitment of devotion. And, interestingly enough, what a person sets their heart on, or what a person pursues, is in many cases, literally what they become.

The Israelites in this story pursued worthless idols. They became worthless. Today, we also pursue so many worthless things: wealth, fame, recognition, etc. Look at the plethora of reality shows (a misnomer, no doubt) on television. Everyone wants their 15 seconds of fame. And who among us couldn't live with just a little bit more money?

While these things are not evil in themselves, the truth is plain in the Bible (and in life). What you pursue can be what you become.

Jesus said it a bit differently but with the same emphasis. "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:21)

If I am going to become what I pursue or treasure, I pray that every moment, every day, I pursue God. I pray that I pursue and treasure Him with all my heart, soul, strength and mind. I pray that I pursue His ways, His wisdom and His heart. I pray as the Psalmist...

"Lord, hear my voice when I call; be gracious to me and answer me. My heart says this about You, 'You are to seek My face.' Lord, I will seek Your face." (Psalm 27:8)

May we all pursue something worthy. May we all pursue the face of God.


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

How Long Will You Hesitate Between Two Opinions?

I am sometimes appear to be an indecisive person. Whereas many of my friends and co-workers see clear lines and straight forward choices in their decisions, I often find myself in "gray" areas as to which is the best course or path to pursue. However, I don't seem to have the same problem when it comes to spiritual choices. I don't know about you.

I do know that one day, Elijah the prophet, came to a place in his life that he felt compelled to call the nation of Israel to make a choice. They gather at a place called Mount Carmel and he asks the assembled people,...

"How long will you hesitate between two opinions?" (1 Kings 18:21) A literal translation would be, 'how long will you continue on limping in your life, not being able to make up your mind, whether to follow the Lord Your God or Baal?

It is interesting that the people do not answer a word. Maybe they are afraid. Maybe they are sure of the choice. Maybe they are waiting to see...

Elijah proposes a test. He proposes that two altars and two sacrifices be prepared. One will be offered to Baal by the prophets of Baal (450 in attendance) and the other would be offered to Yahweh, Israel's One True God, and then they would wait and see which one is accepted. This would be evidenced by the God who would answer with fire.

Then the people finally answered, "That sounds good."

The Baal prophets built their altar. They sacrificed their sacrifice. They cried, danced, called out and even cut themselves - but there was no answer from Baal. They did this all day and still no answer. Elijah even taunted  them and the people of Israel began shifting and drawing closer to Elijah.

Elijah repaired the Lord's altar. He made the sacrifice. He made it harder by digging trenches and having water poured all over and around the sacrifice. He then prayed to God saying, "Answer me, Lord. Answer me so that this people will know that You, Yahweh, are God and that You have turned their hearts back."

Fire comes from heaven, consumes Elijah's sacrifice, the altar and the water. God is shown to be the One True God. And when all the people saw it, they fell facedown and said, "Yahweh, He is God! Yahweh, He is God!"

From silence, to "that sounds good", to clear proclamation that Yahweh is God!

I pray that we never hesitate between opinions when it comes between choosing God over anything else.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Unintentional Sin...

"When they (the children of Israel) sin against You - for there is no one who does not sin - and You are angry with them and hand them over to the enemy...and when they return to You with their whole mind and heart...may You hear in heaven, Your dwelling place...May You forgive Your people who sinned against You..." (1 Kings 8:46-50 portions)

This is a part of Solomon's prayer when he dedicates the new temple. He makes a covenant with God on behalf of the people. He seeks God's favor whenever there will be transgressions, defeat by and enemy, drought, famine, etc. He then petitions God for times when His people even unintentionally sin against Him.

This past weekend, I had an unintentional sin. My wife and I had a full weekend of taking our youngest son to college, driving from middle to west Tennessee, driving back home and all of this was done without my driver's license. It was unintentional. I only discovered it when yesterday I had to make an purchase at a local retailer with a credit card and was asked for my photo identification. As I looked through my wallet, I realized that it was not there. Have you ever had one of those sinking feelings? I briefly panicked (on the inside) and my mind raced as to where in the world could my driver's license be? The store clerk was gracious and allowed the purchase, but as I returned to my truck, I was mentally running down the checklist of where I had last used it.

Then I remembered. I had applied for a new passport the past week. I had to make a photocopy of my driver's license for the application process. I returned home, went to the office, looked on the multi-purpose printer and there it was!

It was an unintentional and for the most part unknowing sin. However, if I had been stopped by a law enforcement officer during that time and asked about my license, it would have been a punishable sin as well. Unintentional and unknowing would not be a legitimate excuse.

Solomon pleads with God that when Israel was to sin against God - for there is no one who does not sin - that God would forgive them when they return to Him. The condition was that they return with their whole mind and heart, in humility, asking for forgiveness. He asks God to "hear in heaven" and "forgive Your people." And he asks this not for the people's sake only but for God's glory as well...

"For they are Your people and Your inheritance...For You, Lord God, have set them apart as Your inheritance from all the people on earth, as You spoke..." (1 Kings 8:51-53 portions)

While I am pretty sure that the law enforcement officers in my area would not have forgiven me my unintentional sin of forgetting my driver's license, I am very sure that God, if I return to Him with all my mind and heart, will forgive if only I ask.

Lord, forgive me today of those times that I have chosen my way over Your way. Forgive the sins that I have continued to fall into knowingly as well as those I have committed unintentionally. Make Your heart my heart and keep on conforming me daily to the image of your One and Only Son, Jesus.


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Who Am I? A Prayer of Thanksgiving...

In 2 Samuel when God consolidates David power over Israel, David speaks a prayer of thanksgiving (2 Samuel 7:18-29). He sits in the Lord's presence and speaks/sings a song of praise and remarks...

1. "Who am I, Lord God, and what is my house that You have brought me this far?" (2 Sam 7:18)

Shouldn't we all have this same attitude as David? Who are we that God has lavished His favor upon us? No matter what our lot in life, the simple fact that "while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" should spur us on to the same thanksgiving confessed by David. Who are we that God should favor us so much? Each of us in truth deserve death and an everlasting hell of separation from God the Father and Creator. We are all sinners and fallen short of the glory of God. Yet, because of His infinite mercy and great compassion, He has paid the full price of our sin-debt through the precious blood of His Son, Jesus, on a Calvary cross and has freely offered that sin payment to those who simply trust and believe. Who am I? Who are you? Who are we that we deserve such a great favor?

2. "There is no one like You, and there is no God besides You..." (2 Sam 7:22)

David lived in a time where the nations worshipped multiple gods. They went to war in the name of their gods believing that the most powerful one would always win the day. We live in a time of multiple gods. The obvious ones are those of competing world religions. The subtle ones are usually deeply engrained in our culture and harder to see: self-reliance, consumerism, practical atheism, etc. I pray to live my live always proclaiming to anyone who listens, "Taste and see that the Lord our God is good!" There is no on like Him and, contrary to culturally accepted values today, there is no other God beside Him. There are not many ways to God, only one and His name is Jesus.

3. "Do as You have promised, so that Your name will be exalted forever..." (2 Sam 7:25-26)

In the end, it all is about the glory of God. God and God alone is worthy of praise, honor and glory. Everything he as done since before the beginning and throughout the remainder of eternity is to make His glory known. As Piper say, all of creation is moving towards that one day where there will only be the white-hot worship of God. It is true that every knee will bow and every tongue confess. It is true that vast multitudes from every nation, tribe, people and language, will be standing before the throne and before the lamb crying out in a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!" God does keep His promises not for my personal benefit (though it is great) but in essence to make His name exalted forever.

Who am I that I should deserve Your favor?
There is no one like You and there is no other besides You.
Do as You have promised so that that Your name will be exalted forever.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Source of our Compassion...

When you first glance at the title of this blog, you might think it rather obvious. As followers of Christ, the source of compassion for those in need is based in Jesus, who He is and what He did. Obvious. However, I ran across another source of our compassion while reading through the book of Deuteronomy.

In Deuteronomy, chapter 24, God is giving through Moses the laws of taking into consideration people in need. He is giving the rules for right living to the Israelites when they encounter a brother of fellow person who is needy. He talks about loans. He talks about (and condemns) oppressing the daily laborers and poor. He then gives practical instructions as to how Israel is to provide for the disadvantaged living among them.

"When you reap the harvest in your field, and you forget a sheaf in the field, do not go back to get it. It is to be left for the foreigner, the fatherless, and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you knock down the fruit from your olive tree, you must not go over the branches again. What remains will be for the foreigner, the fatherless, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you must not glean what is left. What remains will be for the foreigner, the fatherless, and the widow..." (Deuteronomy 24:19-21).

This is what we call the law of the gleanings or "leaving" the gleanings. These were the areas of unharvested or second-harvest crops that were to be left for those who had no fields or resources of their own. These were the offering to God that were to go as care for the, "foreigner, fatherless and the widow."

What jumped out at me was the next verse, Deuteronomy 24:22, which says...

"Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt. Therefore I am commanding you to do this."

Israel's status as slaves should remind them to care for the helpless. When they looked at the hopeless and the hurting in their land, they were to remember that those people were them, but for the grace of God. When they were tempted to become self-sufficient and self-dependant, they were to remember that only a few generations ago, they were slaves and impoverished, living in a distant land.

Why do we care for the poor and needy? Why do we strive to make Christ known to the perishing? For sure, it is because of the compassion of Christ in us. But it is also the simple fact that there, but for the grace of God, go you and I.

Remember...that God has done a mighty act of grace and compassion in our lives. It helps us look at others in a whole new light.


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

To the God Who Carries Us...

"The Lord your God who goes before you will fight for you, just as  you saw Him do for you in Egypt. And you saw in the wilderness how the Lord your God carried you as a man carries his son all along the way you traveled until you reached this place." (Deuteronomy 1:30-31)

Every day is covered with God's blessings. Every moment He is the God who carries us. He carries us like a loving father who carries his son along the way.

I can remember several times walking through the backwoods of the rural Philippines when our children were small. Many times, Regina and I would hike several miles to help teach some lesson in agriculture or health care practices. Most of the time we were walking through grown up trails, over mountains, through rivers, to share a Bible study and start a church.

During those years we would often take our small children along. They would get weary along the way. As parents do, we would pick them up and carry them. Sometimes on our hips. Sometimes on our shoulders. Sometimes they weren't weary. They just couldn't keep up. Or we decided, without their consultation, that the way was too hard and we would pick them up...carry them.

You could see their countenance change immediately from walking in the hot, humid tropical climate to riding on mom or dad. Their burden just got lighter and they began conversations about the plants, animals, the clouds...pretty much anything, because the burden of the journey had been removed from them.

The truth about me is that there is never a time that God is not carrying me. I tend to only think of Him doing it during the difficult times. In fact, sometimes I complain asking why He doesn't carry me better. But actually, He is always the God who carries us.

How childish of us not to recognize His carrying provisions every day and every moment. How immature to only look to Him to carry us when things are seemingly not going our way. Moses reminded the Israelites that,...

"The Lord your God has been with you this past 40 years, and you have lacked nothing." (Deuteronomy 2:7b)

Not only was God going to go before them, lead them into the promised land and drive out their enemies before they even got there, but they should not forget, as a testimony to God, that He had constantly been carrying them ever since they left Egypt.

So, I thank God. He is a God that carries me...every day...every moment. Not just in the hard times but in the ordinary times as well.

I should never let that thankfulness become common place or worse, forgotten.

Thank you Lord, for carrying me...as a father carries his son...

Monday, July 22, 2013

God Builds His People...

When Israel, under the leadership of Moses, comes to the edge of the promised land, they begin to waver, quiver and eventually turn their back on God's promise. They are afraid to claim the land. They have seen the giants and decided that it would have been better for them to have stayed in bondage in Egypt. This sets off a series of what seems to be unfortunate events but in reality is God's perfect plan for them as a people.

* Ten of the 12 men who spied out the land and brought back a report were struck down by the Lord. It was the 10 who brought back the negative report.

* God deems to send a plague among Israel to destroy them but Moses stands in the gap, repeats God's Name back to Him (as He had revealed to Moses on the mountain) and God pardons the people.

* A cousin-priest of Moses and Aaron (Korah) incites a rebellion and as a result, almost 15,000 people die.

But the greatest consequence of Israel's refusal to follow God into His promised land is that the children of Israel are sent back out into the wilderness for 40 more years.

A lot of things happen in the 40 year wilderness wanderings. The rebellious generation dies off. The people are given another chance to learn total dependence on God for their food, water, clothing, safety, etc. They also learn how to wage war battling the Midianites and Moabites. But most important, they are transformed from the "children" of Israel to the "nation" of Israel.

The timespan between the exodus from Egypt (under Moses) to the entering of the promised land (under Joshua) is a relatively short 40 years. However, the stark contrast between those who came out of Egypt and those who entered Canaan is remarkable. In Exodus to Deuteronomy, we see a grumbling, rebellious and even whining people. "We should have stayed in Egypt", "the real promised land is what we left", "we looked like grasshoppers in our own eyes", etc. By the time Joshua leads the people to combat the impenetrable city of Jericho, we find a finely tuned, single-eyed, warrior nation. What a transformation! It took a few years to build this people into a nation under God but they emerge as a people of God who puts fear into the hearts of all who hear about them!

I often wonder if I am living life in the promises of God or in the fear of the giants? I wonder if I am battling in the promised land and claiming God's abundant life in Christ for me or being sent back into the wilderness because God has more training for me? I rest assured knowing that both places can be good if I am keeping my eyes on the One who has called me and set me apart for His task. I just pray that I am up to the calling and task that He has set before me today.

Lord, build you people today...and begin with me.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

"Kairos" Living in a "Kronos" World...

I am finding that the older I get, the more I understand what it means to wait on the Lord. I am not saying that I am any better at doing that than I was ten years ago. It's that I just grasp the concept a little better. Perhaps living a few years back here in the United States has helped me in this area. I am constantly amazed at the fast pace of things such as life in general, information exchange, etc. Even traffic with people rushing from home to the grocery store as if the life of their family depended on them getting that gallon of milk within 5 minutes...

When the children of Israel had come out of 400+ years of bondage in Egypt, they began a journey, a pilgrimage if you will, towards the promised land. They were too numerous to count and it was a great feat on Moses part just to bring some sort of order to the whole chaos of millions of men, women, children, goats, possessions, etc., picking up everything they had every few days and moving on to the next place.

The key was that they were not only following God but also learning to follow Him and totally depend on Him for their every need. They were being molded into a people who not only knew Him but belonged to Him wholly. Their food was provided. God gave them water. Even their clothes and sandals were miraculously preserved and did not wear out because of God's great provision for them.

Even the timing of when they travelled or when they camped was up to God. And it was up to them to follow and be obedient or not follow and be disobedient. The writer of the book of Numbers says...

"Whether it was two days, a month, or longer, the Israelites camped and did not set out as long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle. But when it was lifted, they set out. They camped at the Lord's command, and they set out at the Lord's command. They carried out the Lord's requirement according to His command through Moses." (Numbers 9:22-23)

They didn't get ahead of God and they didn't fall behind. They followed His leading. When the fire and the cloud moved, they moved. When it settled, they settled.

My human inclination and reasoning would say that surely there was a more direct route and way to the promised land. If we got together, devised a plan and then implemented it with the various tribes, we probably could have gotten the Israelites from Goshen to Canaan in a fraction of the time. Right?

What I am learning is that there is the "kronos" time in the world that we as humans live (yea, dwell) in. It is what we break down into 365 days for our year, 52 weeks, 7 days per week, 24 hours in a day,....We even quantify it by rationalizing "time is money", "make hay while the sun shines", "a day late, a dollar short", etc.

Yet there is another view of time and it is the "kairos" time. It is the God-view of time that has more to do with perfect timing and less to do with how we as humans structure or apportion time. It is God's timing. It is His perfect way of bringing everything into its own season and fruition according to His plan, His purpose and His priorities. In His "kairos" time, He knows when everything will happen. He is actually orchestrating the very time. "With the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day..." (2 Peter 3:8) He knows the day His Son Jesus will return. He has determined that date already. He knows when evil and Satan will be conquered. It's a done deal. And it is hard for us to see and even believe these things because we are people living under the "kronos" of time and not His "kairos" reality.

I know that I should slow down and wait for the timing of God. I have seen over and over in my life that my best laid plans and actions are always infinitesimally successful and impactful when compared to the plans and the way of God.

Lord, may I follow Your cloud as you You lead by day and Your fire as You lead by night. May I see Your "kairos" moments in the midst of my short-sighted "kronos" world view. Whether it is two days, a month or longer, may I follow Your leading as You reveal it to me...