Sunday, December 16, 2018

MESSAGE FOR ADVENT #2

Worshiping the Baby Christ Child
 
Redemption came to us wrapped in swaddling clothes. We could not have been more surprised by the manner in which God sent his Son to us.

But in our astonishment, we must be careful of how we interpret this message of redemption. It is actually the totally surprising manner in which Christ came that may even contribute to our confusion about who he is. The story of his birth is so marvelous that we make the telling story the focus, instead of the deeper significance of the story.

This is dangerous, because if it is only the story that is the focus of our worship, Jesus merely becomes one of the characters of the story, and as a mere character, he is not allowed to change. We may worship him in a sense, but our worship may be misplaced. 

The Story in Two Parts Only

Whether or not the date of Christ's birth is an accurate one, and despite the way in which the church arrived at the day, Christmas has long been the time of the year when we celebrate the birthday of Jesus Christ.

It is true that in our churches, we celebrate Christ often throughout the year. As churches, we gather to celebrate Jesus at least once a week. In many of our homes, we celebrate him every day.

However, for very many people, the only time that Jesus is actually celebrated is twice a year—at Christmas and at Easter. For most of the year, most people are so busy with their lives they have very little time to think about Jesus.

It is good, therefore, to have a celebration like Christmas to remind us of the Messiah. However, there is some danger in this as well. 

The Dangers of Christmas

Christmas, along with Easter, are the big Christian religious holidays of the year. As I said, they are really the only times of the year when many people think about Jesus. Because of this, these people have come to have a distorted view of who Jesus is.

If you think about it, you can see why.

At Christmas, we see Jesus as a little baby lying in a manger in the crèche—a “pesebre” as I noted in the previous  Advent post. He is a helpless infant and totally in need of his mother’s protection and care.

Likewise, at Easter, we again see a Jesus that is helpless. This time we see him beaten and bloodied and hanging on a cross. This is especially true in the countries where I worked for many years in much of Latin America, where the emphasis is placed strongly on the suffering of Jesus, yet the fact of the resurrection sometimes goes almost uncelebrated.

This becomes a danger when so much is made of the crucifixion and less of the resurrection of Jesus. During holy week in nearly every village and city throughout Latin America, Jesus is depicted as scourged and defeated, hanging on a cross and paraded through the streets. He is seen not necessarily as a Savior who rescues us, but as a defeated man who only deserves our pity. I have been in churches where they have a coffin made of glass that contains a dead and emaciated body of Jesus, while standing over him is a radiant, victorious (and, by implication, resurrected) figure of Mary.

How is it that we have twisted the good news of the Bible to come to this completely false teaching? For many who are exposed only to the Jesus of Christmas and Easter, the only image that they have of Jesus is someone in need of protection. He is either the helpless baby Jesus, or he is to be pitied as he hangs dead on a cross.

People with these two perspectives only do not see the King of kings and Lord of lords. It is no wonder that for many, Jesus has no power in their lives. How can he have power in their lives if they do not know him as a person of power? 

A Time of High Emotion

Many people like the thought of the little baby Jesus because it is something that gives us emotional satisfaction. Who does not love the thought of the little baby in its mother’s arms? It is a time of great joy. At Christmas we sing, “Joy to the world, the Lord has come.”

Interestingly, in the celebration that surrounds Holy Week at Easter is also a time of very high emotion. In this commemoration, there is the crucifixion. Here the high emotion is the great sorrow that we experience at the death of Jesus. It is the other extreme in our emotional gamut to the joy of the birth of Jesus.

It is true that we are people of emotion. It would be foolish to deny that emotion is important to us. However, it is also dangerous to allow ourselves to be ruled too much by our feelings. We all know that emotions can carry us to the heights of elation, but they can also plunge us to the depths of depression. We also know that our sentiments are not always based on reality. In the end of it all, our emotions are not good indicators of reality.

I think that this is especially important to remember this at Christmas, because at this time, it is not only the joy of the Christ child that we celebrate. As I mentioned in the previous post, Christmas has also become a time of celebration of family.

In this time of year, we try to get together as families. We hug sons and daughters whom we have not been able to see for a long time. We have special dishes that we prepare for our Christmas meal. Perhaps we all go over to Grandpa and Grandma’s house and enjoy, once again, our family traditions.

Many of our Christmas songs involve family traditions. “Over the river and through the woods, to Grandmother’s house we go. The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh through the wide and drifted snow.”

However, to allow Christmas be a time of such high emotion can be a dangerous thing. Some have family members that cannot come home. Some are from families where a loved one has died in the past year and this Christmas will be much different from the ones in the past. This year, along with the cup of joy, there will also be the bitter cup.

For the Christian however, these present emotions can never change the eternal reality of what God has promised. 

Do We Come to Adore, or to Worship?

If we are wise, we will ask the same questions that the magi from the east asked. These men, while studying the heavens saw a star, which in their tradition was a sign that a great king was to be born. Thus, they traveled westward seeking the Christ child.

However, they did not come seeking a little infant so that they could remark how cute he looked and pinch his chubby little cheek, but they asked, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? We have come to worship him” (Matthew 2:2).

The journey of the wise men was not an emotional journey. They did not come to adore a little baby. They came to worship a King.

And so, we celebrate Christmas. We celebrate the birth of the Messiah, the Christ child. We must be wise in our worship. Emotionally, we think of a little baby Jesus wrapped in cloth and lying in a manger. We think of mother Mary and Joseph, who, although he was not the father of Jesus, this night had the role of the father. To adore the baby Christ child is an emotional part of our worship and it can be good, but if we are wise, we will also worship the King. 

Happy Birthday Jesus! (Be Careful How You Do It)

While we may conclude that it is a good thing to remember the birth of Jesus, we must also recognize how different from other birthday celebrations do we observe Jesus’ birth. When we celebrate the birthdays of our own children, we often think of the time when they were born, but we also know that in reality, they do not remain infants. With each birthday, our children have matured. We mention how much they have grown and celebrate the things that they have accomplished in the past year. Every year there is another candle on the cake. In the days of birthday spankings, there is one extra slap every year (I do not know if families still do this, but we did when I was growing up).

I do not wish to take away from the wonder of the fact of Christ’s birth. It is a miracle that defies our understanding. The birth of Jesus is the infinite being born into the finite. In the miracle of the incarnation, Jesus was born to a mother whom he, himself had created. This, we cannot understand and it is because of this that we can never cease to marvel at his birth.

However, we must also separate ourselves from the pure emotion of the season. We do not come to see a little baby to remark how cute he is and to congratulate the parents. We come to worship a king. We ask, “Where is He who is born the king of the Jews?”  

Recognizing the Reality

With these thoughts, I would like to look to one of the best biblical passages on the incarnation and one that is not often read for Christmas. In Philippians 2:6-11, we find these words by the Apostle Paul:  

...Although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 

This is what we celebrate at Christmas time. It is the Infinite being born into the finite. It is the Creator being born into the creation. This is something that we cannot understand. It is beyond our ability to comprehend and yet, it was because of his love for us and his desire to redeem us that Jesus was born a man. Paul continues in this passage:  

And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 

Here is the crucifixion. This is what we commemorate during holy week.

Thus, in this passage we have the two major Christian holidays of the year. In these verses, we see Jesus as a newborn infant and the suffering crucified Messiah. However, if we stop with these two images, we make a terrible error, because we have neglected the most important of all. If we stop here, we are in danger of being carried away by our emotions only. That is why Paul continues: 

Therefore, also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 

This is what Simeon saw.

As we remember, Simeon was the old man in the temple who was there the day that Mary and Joseph came to present Jesus to the Lord. Simeon took the infant Jesus in his arms. This old man had the same perspective as did the kings from the east who came looking for the King of the Jews. Taking Jesus in his arms, Simeon did not remark how cute the baby was and kiss his little cheek.

Rather, Simeon lifted his eyes and said to the Lord, “My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light of revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of your people Israel” (Luke 2:30-32 NAS).

The kings from the east came and asked, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? We have come to worship him.”

Wise men, two millennia ago, sought to worship the King. How is it today that so many only seek an infant? The One whom we celebrate today is not an infant in a manger, but He is the King of kings and Lord of lords. 

And I saw heaven opened; and behold, a white horse, and He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True; and in righteousness He judges and wages war. And His eyes are a flame of fire, and upon His head are many diadems; and He has a name written upon Him which no one knows except Himself. And He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood; and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. 

And from His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may smite the nations; and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty.

And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.”
(Revelation 19:11-16 NAS).

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

KISII REPORT #27


At this point, the rafters and the entire roof structure may look like a jumbled pile of pick-up-sticks on top of the walls, but there actually is an order to it all.
  

 





Perhaps a view from up top might make a bit more sense.


 





Or a view from inside looking up:


 
 
 

To make it look complete from the outside, the rafter tails need to be trimmed and, of course, the “roof iron” has to be attached. 
 


View from inside of the church
building. This is near where
the dormitory is being built
I was able to send them a bit more money this week to go into the fund for buying the metal for the roof. It is not yet enough, but Pastor Joel is thinking that it may be enough in “earnest money” to allow the supplier to extend to us some good faith.
 
After all, we have been faithful in all promises so far. Besides that, we have nearly enough for all the tin at this point, and we certainly want to see this building completed before the heavy rains begin.

All of our purchases need to be coordinated with the transport, since the orphanage is in a rather remote area. When we pay for trucking, we do not want to pay for partial loads. That is why we cannot just buy a little at a time.

Of course, there is still more work to be done on the building after the roof is complete. Primarily, there are doors and windows to make. I am not sure what beds will be needed. It would be nice if the children did not have to sleep on the cement floor, but first things first.

Even as it is, sleeping on a cement floor that can be kept reasonably clean is better than sleeping in the damp dirt during the rains. A completed building to keep out the rains, the mud, and hopefully most of the mosquitoes will help with the health problems and the malaria during the rains.

We still have some time before that, but we also keep in mind the supplying of food and the other daily needs of the children. The new school term begins in January also. It is our prayer that all of the children will be able to attend classes again. This represents a significant cost, but if there is to be a future for these orphans, then they must be able to go to school.


These are all things I think about every day, but I am thankful to see how the Lord has been faithful in supplying the needs.
 
If you could see what the lives of these children were like before the church took them in, then you would be able to understand why each child is so thankful to God for how He has rescued them.


It makes me think of some verses from the book of Ezekiel. The context is all wrong of course, and the Scripture application, but the words nevertheless come to my mind:


On the day of your birth your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water for cleansing. You were not rubbed with salt or wrapped in cloths. No one cared enough for you to do even one of these things out of compassion for you. Instead, you were thrown out into the open field, because you were despised on the day of your birth.

Then I passed by you and saw you squirming in your blood, and as you lay there in your blood I said to you, “Live!”

There I said to you, “Live!”

I made you thrive like a plant of the field. You grew up and matured and became very beautiful.

God has also said to each one of these children, "Live!"

"May God make every one of these children of the Log Church Orphanage live and thrive like a plant in the field."




 

 

 

Sunday, December 9, 2018

MESSAGE FOR ADVENT #1

Surprised by Christmas

Sometimes our spiritual journeys take on the manner of basically just plodding along in our lives, step after step, almost forgetting what our real purpose in the journey is. We become so accustomed to dealing with a chaotic and war-faring existence that we must face almost every day that we lose sight of our ultimate goals.

Then suddenly, when we expect it the least, we are surprised by the possibility of redemption. We catch a glimpse of the Redeemer.
--

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

KISII REPORT #26

If you scroll down a few reports you will see a tree trunk being sawed into dimensional lumber by a Husqvarna chain saw. That was done to a number of trees to make even a greater number of 2-inch framing boards—380 boards to be precise.



The logs are those of eucalyptus trees. Eucalyptus is not a native tree to Kenya, but is a species of tree that has been imported from Australia. The tree is now grown not only in Kenya, but in most parts of the tropical and sub-tropical areas of the world (this does not include Northern Wisconsin).

Mostly Eucalyptus Trees in the Background
It is called the gum tree in Australia, and some say that it is the Ausie’s gift to the world. It grows fast, is straight-grained and largely knot-free. Not everyone loves it, however. It drinks a lot of water, and some say that in drought-prone areas it exacerbates the scarcity of ground water. Our son Levi knows about this. He did a study of it in Ethiopia.

Some of the Church Leaders and some of the
Older Boys who are working the dormitory
(Not here.Here they are taking a break)

But eucalyptus also makes strong 2X6’s, and its aromatic qualities can inhibit termites. It has some natural insecticidal qualities. Levi also knows this.

When I was going to visit him in Ethiopia, he cautioned me to be prepared to get used to sleeping with bed bugs.

“They’re everywhere,” he said.

But then, about a week before I arrived, he made a smudge fire out of eucalyptus on the floor in the middle of his house, closed the house up tight, and left it for that week when he came to meet me.

When we came back after the week—  Boom!  No bed bugs!
The eucalyptus smoke had infused everything and killed all the bugs (or driven them away).
Also, all of his clothes smelled a little like arthritis ointment!
Win-win!
 


These are the aromatic boards that are now being made into the rafters for the dormitory. The roof design looks a little complex, what with the latrine addendums and the food storage room being added.

The roof iron? (metal roof sheets). We only have them about half paid for, but then again, neither are we ready to put them on yet. We have seen how God supplies for this building for the children when the need arises, and we will await to see how he will also supply this roofing material.
 



Thanks to all who have helped!
It is going well.

Monday, December 3, 2018

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE DIE (FOR CHRISTIANS ONLY)

When someone whom we love dies, it is natural for us to have some questions about death. In fact, it would seem unusual to me not to have some questions. Despite the fact that death is something that is part of everyone’s experience, there remains much about it that we do not know or do not understand. Our questions about this are not surprising, since there is also much about our very existence that we do not understand.

It is our nature to react negatively to the concept of death. We react in this way because there are so many unknown factors about it. We have some assurances in the Bible about what to expect if we have placed our trust in Jesus, but there are still many questions that we have.

What actually happens when a believer dies?

Friday, November 30, 2018

KISII REPORT #25

Please remember that the Log Church orphanage is located in an extremely poor area and the present situation is very unhealthy for the children. They constantly are fighting sickness because of poor sanitation. It is not that they do not care or do not know better, but it is just that the conditions are so desperate.


Pastor Joel and the church have graciously been caring for these orphaned children, but they themselves have very little. It is difficult for us to imagine what it is like to care for 42 children and provide them with food, water, clothing, schooling, housing and all the other essentials when they do not even have enough for their own families. That is why we are helping.
One of the workers with some of the children

Besides that (I am only speaking for myself personally on this), we have those words from the apostle John when he said, “If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?”

It is one of the two verses that the Lord gave to me when I was dragging my feet about getting involved. I could not continue my life and just ignore this situation after God went to great lengths to lead me into it.

This said, let me show you a little about the sanitation needs at the orphanage. I have mentioned that the plans for the orphanage include two latrines, one for the boys and the other for the girls. This is part of the overall improvements in sanitation that we are hoping to establish for the children.
 

The photos are of the two latrines presently at the orphanage. The one made from blocks is one that we made last year after the former one had collapsed. It is a nice latrine, but insufficient for the large number of people that must use it.

The other photo is the other latrine currently in
use. Of course you can see how inadequate it is and how difficult it would be to keep oneself clean.

When you consider the number of children and when you consider that they are in constant contact with the soil and even sleeping on the dirt floors, perhaps you can understand why stomach illnesses are very common, along with other parasites that enter in through the skin.

Also remember that these are children—not adults. Even the most responsible of children do not always do things properly, and these children are orphans, some of them rescued from the rubbish heaps. Sanitation is a new word to them. It must be taught to them.

With the two latrines that we are building in conjunction with the dormitory, along with the cement floors instead of dirt, we hope to greatly alleviate these problems of illnesses.

Pastor Joel with two of the boys
Clean water is yet another major difficulty there. The children need to carry the water about a kilometer, and as you can see in the photo, it does not come from a very clean source. I did not see this when I was there so I am not clear on the specifics, but I intend to go and look at it when I return next month (January).


Water needs to be carried about a kilometer to the orphanage.
 
There are several questions that I have concerning the water situation, but I will wait until I am there to see how it is.
 
 

I know that the answer is a bore hole (a drilled well), but it is not small undertaking. In the words of Joel, “Praise to God, clean water can be obtained at the deep table of 129 metres down.”

 
Right now we are doing nothing in regards to water, but we will see what God will do in
the future. We work as God provides. Thanks to all of you who have taken on part of this burden along with us. I can tell you that it is really appreciated!

A bit more money has come in for the tin roof sheets. We still lack just under $1500 to complete the roof, but we have seen that God will provide for these children of His

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

KISII REPORT #24

Construction of the dormitory for the children is somewhat on hold at the moment until we have enough money to buy the tin sheets (or the “iron,” as they call it) for the roof. But as you saw in the previous Kisii Report, we have the logs for making the trusses and rafters, and that is currently happening.

As we wait, I thought that I would take the opportunity to show some of the other things around the orphanage.

Some have asked me why the people there cannot grow enough food to feed the orphans. Here is a photo of the land that they have to grow crops. It is an area of about a quarter acre.


How big is that?

In our increasingly urbanized US, not many people have any idea what a quarter acre is unless it is compared to a city lot, or as more common in these days, comparing it to a football field. (I recently heard a news report about the recent devastating Carr Fire in Northern California, comparing the area burned to the number of hundreds of thousands of football fields instead of the number of acres! This alone is a commentary of where our culture has moved).

Well, look at a quarter acre in this way: If Aaron Rodgers completes a pass for a 25-yard gain, that area gained is about a quarter acre. Or if you prefer, if Aaron Rodgers is sacked for a 25-yard loss, the Packers just gave up about a quarter acre of field. A nice gain (or devastating loss) in football, but hardly enough to feed 42 children plus Joel’s family and the staff.
OK, now everyone wave!

The crop that is grown there is called locally sukumu wiki (kale), which should be to the considerable delight of all you health food enthusiasts out there. The fact is, it is a good food to grow for them.


After

Besides the dormitory which is being built, I see that they have also have taken advantage of the construction happening in the orphanage to upgrade the swing. It is the only playground equipment that the children have.


Before


When I was there a year ago, I had purchased those chains because the nylon rope that they had kept breaking. But I see that they also have put in some concrete footers for the uprights.

I wonder if they still have the football (soccer) that I bought. They before had none. One of the boys came up to me and said so politely, “Sir, we would like a ball that we could kick.”

The signs that the children are holding are not legible on the photo, but they say:

 
“Thank you donors,” “Thank you for the building.”
“Thank you for the food.”
“Thank you for the clothes.”

Joel tells me that these statements of gratitude were written from the hearts of the children. I believe that it is true. The thankfulness of the children is one of the things that was so notable to me when I visited.

God willing, I will be back in about two months.

 

Sunday, November 25, 2018

INVESTMENT ADVICE FOR THANKSGIVING

These days with the various responsibilities that have been given to me, I spend a good amount of time visiting with old people. I am not talking only about old people like me, but people who know that even under the very best of health circumstances, their days left on this earth are few.

At that time of life, all pretense is gone. All need to impress anyone has disappeared, and it becomes evident what is truly important to these old folks.

As I visit with these people, do you know what we talk about more than anything else?

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

INFATUATED WITH GOD

A teenage girl, who has just started dating, asks her mother, or a son his father, “How do you know if you love someone?”

The mom or the dad, with all the wisdom in the world, gives some sort of answer that sometimes is really just quite silly. They might say, “Well, if you have a dizzy feeling when you are around someone, or if you feel a kind of sickness in your stomach, it means that you are falling in love.”

Perhaps their answer may not be quite as nonsensical as that, but the point is, very few people have a clear idea of what love is. Despite all of the studies about love and despite many people making millions of dollars teaching us about finding true love, the subject of love remains for most a very mysterious concept.

Friday, November 16, 2018

KISII REPORT #23

I must say that it is encouraging for me to see the step-by-step progress on the dormitory for the children. Seeing the photos as it goes up, it is apparent that the building is more complex than what I had at first envisioned.


I think that I mentioned before that they are putting in two latrines, one for the girls and one for the boys. I am sure that this will help the children stay much healthier, since as it is now, it is impossible for them to maintain a clean environment.

There will also be a place for storage of food. Buying food for 42 children requires constantly looking for the best prices, which come when they buy in bulk. Having a safe and clean place to store the food will enable them to better do this.

The preparation for putting on the roof is being made. There are trees around the Kisii area, but they are a precious commodity. So far we do not have enough funds to purchase all that are needed to make the roof structure. However, the man who is selling the trees is allowing them to cut all the timbers that they need so that the work can progress. We gave him what we had now, and will pay the balance as God sends it to us.

I am pretty impressed on how straight these planks being cut by chainsaw appear. I have tried to do this in the past, and it is not as easy as you might think. I blamed my chainsaw. My boards did not come out so straight, but I did make some pretty good wedges.

We will keep you all informed the best that we can. Progress is being made. There is still a long way to go, but the Lord will see this through.
It is a journey of faith for all of us. As the children see their home being built and as they pray daily for it, they also see how God answers.

There is still the metal to buy for the roof, and this also is a large expense. But we are all amazed at how many people are helping in this effort. Each one is doing so as they are prompted by God.

Thanks so much to each of you!

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

SAMSON—A WEAK MAN WITH A STRONG GOD - Judges 14-16

“The woman bore a son and called his name Samson. The young man grew, the Lord blessed him, and the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol” (Judges 13:24-25).

It is with these words that we are introduced to the life of Samson. The names of those towns are not important to us at this point. They only tell us where Samson was living with his parents. What is important is the phrase, “The Spirit of the Lord began to stir him.”

This word “stir” used in this way causes me to ponder it a little.

Friday, November 9, 2018

KISII REPORT #22

In the previous Kisii Report, I mentioned that meagre words could never express the gratitude felt for all the donations to help the children in Kenya.

Early this morning I received this email from Pastor Joel. Click on the READ MORE link below to read it.

It looks like they did a great job in expressing in what is a second language for them their expressions of thanks. Even the orphans had one of them write on their behalf. (I added the photos)