Thursday, March 29, 2012

A LAMENT FOR THE WORDS “YOU’RE WELCOME”



After checking out at a local supermarket and as I accepted my change that the check-out girl was returning to me, I said “thank you.”  She looked at me, smiled and said, “No problem.”
Later I visited a hardware store, looking for a new door knob for our home.  I knew that they must have door knobs in that store, but for the life of me I could not find them.  Seeing a stock boy putting boxes of nails on a shelf, I asked him if he could direct me to the right isle.  After he told me, I thanked him, to which he replied, “not a problem.”
I had been out of the country for a few years.  On coming back home after such a long absence, one notices small changes of many kinds; changes that might otherwise come about without being aware of them.  The replacement of, “you’re welcome” as the response to “thank you” of is one of these. As any visit to the grocery store will show you, it is now most common to say, “no problem,” instead of “you’re welcome.” It is not a change that carries great importance, but nevertheless, as I walked away from the stores, it left me thinking while I may not have been exactly “welcome,” I was glad that at least I had not been a problem to the people.
Certainly, I understand that these two friendly people did not mean this at all.  Indeed, I had felt that their response really meant that I was welcome.  It is simply that the language had changed in my absence.  English is, after all, a living language; unlike ancient Greek which is no longer in common usage so does not change.  English is constantly changing and being modified in its usage.


However, I would like to lament, for a few minutes, the disappearance of the words, “you are welcome.”
After thanking someone, we may be relieved to hear that we had not been a problem to them.  After all, I have also in the past been helped by individuals who have made it plain to me that even though they may have helped me, I had been a problem to them and had disrupted their day – and that they were glad to be rid of me.  Nevertheless, in my trips to the grocery store and the hardware store, even if I had not been a problem, would it not have been be much nicer to hear that I had been welcome for the help?
I am always sad to see graceful words fall from common usage.  The word “Welcome” is one of these.  Even the dictionary definition is happy to read:  “Received with pleasure and hospitality…gratifying…cordially permitted to do or enjoy.”  That is what it is to be welcome.  The last definition is the best: “Freely granted one’s courtesy.  Used to acknowledge an expression of gratitude.”
The word “welcome,” as we can easily see, is really two words blended into one: “well” and “come.”  The two words together were, in the early days, reserved as a greeting for a desirable, or a pleasing guest.  This was a welcome guest.  But if some guests were welcome, there were others who were not.  There were others who were viewed as a problem of one kind or another.
The definition of the word “problem” is not so enjoyable to read.  “A situation that presents difficulty…a person who is difficult to deal with.”  It is also two words (from ancient Greek – it is not completely dead) that are put together which carries with it the idea of throwing forth a dagger or a javelin.  I have sometimes felt, when I have asked someone for help, that he considered my petition as a dagger stuck into his schedule that ruined his day. So, I suppose one should be grateful when we at least are not a problem.
But how much nicer to be welcome.  “You, sir, have been to me a desirable guest.  I have received your petition with pleasure and freely grant you my courtesy.”
Well, that may seem like that is a little much and I don’t expect to hear this, but it really is embodied in the simple phrase, “You’re welcome.”
Pleasantries and courtesies have been two victims of our modern world.  They seem to us to be pretentious and pompous displays of insincerity of a past age.  To be honest, much of it may have been.  But it was not all artificial, and it certainly does not need to be this way.  Being pleasant and being courteous demonstrates that we deem the other person as important and as worthy of our attention.  Not only do they not present a problem to us, they are to us a welcome guest.
That is why if you should find yourself thanking me for something, I hope you will not hear the words from me, “no problem.”  I will try to hold on to this relic of the past and respond, “You are welcome.”

Thursday, March 22, 2012

HEAL YOUR CHURCH, LORD


The video quality is not good, and the noise in the background is a tropical storm that was raining on the roof at the moment, but Vivian and I were blessed by the singing of these students from the Fiji Bible College.
When we were there, we attended their daily devotion time, and this singing was before I was to speak to them. This was one week ago, when Vivian and I were in Fiji.

video


I am not quite sure if I hear a couple of the words correctly, but the song expresses my prayer for the church:

Heal Your church, Lord,
Make us strong, Lord,
Join our hearts, Lord, to Your side.
Make us one, Lord,
Be a’ working
In the kingdom of Your Son.

The apostle Paul expressed it like this:
“There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6 NAS).

In the church today, we are not acting as one. I am not implying that we as individual churches should compromise our understandings of Scripture and become unified at the cost of our standards. I only say that we should resist the feelings of pride that come when we think all other churches except our own must be either ignorant in some way, or living in opposition to the teachings of Christ.

Here again, perhaps Paul says it best:
“As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’
On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require.
But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
            Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:20-27 ESV).

If the past 2 or 3 years have taught me anything, they have taught me that we as the church of Jesus Christ are acting on a grand level how the first century church at Corinth was acting locally:

“... Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, ‘I am of Paul,’ and ‘I of Apollos,’ and ‘I of Cephas,’ and ‘I of Christ.’
Has Christ been divided?” (1 Corinthians 1:12-13a NAS).

Heal Your church, Lord,
Make us strong, Lord,
Join our hearts, Lord, to Your side.
Make us one, Lord,
Be a’ working
In the kingdom of Your Son.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

AN EARLY MORNING DREAM

I saw a robin hopping.
I felt the sun – warm on my face.
Some geese flew north without stopping.
I saw life awake with quickened pace.

Yet the ground still had that smell
Of the snow just recently melted.
And the trees could still vividly tell
Of ice storms that so recently pelted.

But, like an early morning sleeper,
Stirring, but not sure he wants to rise.
Nature was waking from something deeper;
Now rubbing the slumber from her eyes.

The creek awoke and shed its icy cover,
Remembering how it could laugh and sing.
And I too, found that I was waking to discover
That I was back in Wisconsin – and it was spring.

                                              Donald Rhody

Sunday, March 11, 2012

FAREWELL TO NEW ZEALAND


Tomorrow Vivian and I will be leaving New Zealand for the final time; at least, it will be our last as far as we know. We will leave behind some good memories and we will miss some very good friends that we have made here. New Zealand is a beautiful country with many very kind people. It has interesting traditions and history and many admirable qualities. We have also enjoyed worshiping with the believers in our little church in the small town of Maraetai Beach. We will miss all of these.
I will also say that apart from these things, I leave behind one of the most difficult of working situations in which I have ever ministered. This I will not miss a great deal. We first came to New Zealand about two and a half years ago hoping to get the churches here interested in assisting the churches of the Pacific islands in pastoral and leadership training.  However, the specific churches here in New Zealand with whom I was originally to partner largely excluded me from working with them because I had a desire to work with all Bible believing churches. They did not. They only wanted to work with those who were of their own specific denominational similarities and some even held me in suspect because I used more than one particular translation of the Bible.
Those of you who know me or have read any of my books know that I have a deep love and a great burden for the church of Jesus Christ (Please read especially my book, Portraits of the Church). I have spent my adult life trying to instill in churches the passion to conform to the image of Christ, and it genuinely grieves me to see such self pride expressed in the church. It is, after all, predominantly pride that causes one church or denomination to believe that it alone has complete understanding and that all others are in some way living in opposition to the teachings of Christ.
My own view has always been that we are all on the road to a better understanding, that none of us have reached perfect knowledge of all that Christ taught us, and that the only way that we will progress is by studying the Scriptures together.
We must hold the Holy Scriptures alone as the ultimate authority – not some denominational doctrine or mission policy. I am a firm believer in a strong Biblical doctrine, but unfortunately, church denomination doctrine does not always reflect unmodified Bible doctrine. Denominational doctrine or practices can even sometimes actually hinder us from growing in truth, rather than establishing us in truth. It is an unfortunate fact that church doctrine is sometimes put in place for the protection of the church denomination rather than for the growth and the fellowship of the saints.
Of the sixteen or seventeen countries in which I have worked with churches, I must say that this present one has been the most difficult. Denominationalism among Bible-believing churches is stronger here than I have seen in any other country. Some workers with more experience may dispute that statement, and I am willing to stand corrected, but I can only speak from my own personal experience. I will continue to pray for the church here and also know that, like all of us, the only thing that will help is the grace of God.

Of course, this initial loss of connection with anyone to work with here when we first arrived caused Vivian and me to try somehow to slowly get to know people in the far off islands of the Pacific. This was not an easy task and I must say that even now, we have just made a beginning. But despite the circumstances that we found when we arrived here, we were not left alone in this effort. Some other brothers here did help us and the Holy Spirit opened up channels of communication for us. For example, a small Bible College name Fowey Lodge welcomed us into their work and we have greatly appreciated their friendship and ministry.  In this and in various other ways, we have gotten to know many people in islands hundreds of miles from here.
Through all of these experiences, we have come to learn that there is a great need for pastoral and leadership training in the Pacific islands, although the hunger for this training is not nearly as acute as that which we experienced in Latin America. Again, this is a hunger that only the Holy Spirit can instill, and there are those in the islands that share this vision. Fiji Bible College of Lautoka, Fiji is one of those. It is their stated ministry goal to get Bible preaching back into the pulpits of the Pacific Islands. This single Bible College has been more a source of encouragement for me personally than the discouragement that has come from other sources.
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But now, Vivian and I are mostly looking forward to returning to our little farm in Wisconsin. We do not yet know what we will do, but I plan on getting a few cattle of some kind, and doing a little logging. Hopefully, I can make some kind of living this way. And of course, we look forward in the next four months to visiting those of you, our faithful home churches, who have been our Ropeholders these last 20+ years, both through rewarding times and through difficult times.
I will also continue to write. In fact, I am currently writing a book on a subject that Jesus meant to be a source of uniting churches under Him, but which has instead become a source of division. This is the teaching of the Lord’s Supper, on which distinct churches hold extremely strong beliefs and have closed their ears to hear what others are saying.
One thing that has been interesting to me in this study is that of the four gospel writers, only Matthew, Mark and Luke tell of the actual institution of the Holy Communion, but each of these only dedicates about a half a chapter of their book to it. John, on the other hand, does not talk about the actual moment when Jesus and the disciples partook of the bread and the wine, but explains far more than any of the other writers the teachings of Jesus that took place that evening in the upper room. In John’s gospel, chapters 13, 14, 15, 16, and 17 are all dedicated to the teachings of Jesus in the room that night. There is much in those chapters that we have missed in regards to the attitude surrounding the Lord’s Supper. Hopefully I can have that book out some time next year (2013).
So, as Vivian and I and our boys have had to say farewell to other countries where we have lived and have come to love, we also now must say farewell to New Zealand, another country and people whom we have come to love. But the connections remain, and we maintain the expectation that we will see our New Zealand and Island brothers and sisters in the Lord again at a future time.

Vivian and I are traveling home through Fiji, where I have some meetings, so we will be home in a few days. I will post again when we get settled in Wisconsin.

Monday, March 5, 2012

THE PIGEON POST

An interesting piece of New Zealand history that I learned recently is that this was the first country in the world to have pigeon post. If you are like me, then perhaps your first question is, “What is a pigeon post?” Well, if I could look at you in the eye right now, I would give you the same look that my friend gave to me when I asked him that same question. It was a look of, “You poor uninformed lad. Just listen to me while I educate you.”
Pigeon Post was a regular mail route that delivered mail using homing pigeons. These birds have an almost uncanny ability to be able to find their way to their home nest from almost anywhere, even from more than 1,000 miles away (which has happened in special competition racing). And they are quite quick about it. A moderate flight is regarded as something around 500 miles, and they say that the birds do it at an average of about 50 miles per hour. The routes for the pigeon mail carriers were normally not as far as 500 miles, but it seems to have been quite a reliable way to send messages.
We have probably all heard of carrier pigeons used during both World Wars to send messages over enemy lines. These were legitimate information carriers, and some of these pigeons were even later awarded medals (I hope these medals were not too heavy or it would have been difficult for the birds to fly). Even in the invasion of Normandy in the Second World War, pigeons were used to carry vital information, since it was feared that the Axis forces would intercept radio transmissions. However, the postal system here in New Zealand used the pigeons long before this and even before the First World War. But it actually was another tragedy other than war that prompted the first use of the birds.
Back in the year 1894 there was a shipwreck of the Union Steamship Company on a smaller island off of the North Island of New Zealand. Of the 235 people on board the ship, 121 of those perished in the tragedy. The few families living on that island at the time worked heroically to come to the aid of those survivors, but they had no way of communicating with the mainland to tell them of the disaster. Even before this time, the islanders had felt isolated, but this experience only served to emphasize the fact that they were really cut off from the rest of the world. In those days, there were no telephones to that island or any other form of communication with the mainland.
Shortly after that time, someone came up with an innovative solution – the pigeon post. In this system, homing pigeons, which had their nests in Auckland, were brought by steamship in the weekly visit to the island. Then during the week, the pigeons were released one by one to return to Auckland, each with a message attached to it. Each pigeon could carry up to five messages written on lightweight paper. These letters were appropriately called “flimsys.”
Since these flimsys were the only way of communicating with the main town, many of the messages sent were simply shopping lists to be sent on the next steamer or for timber or hardware. But it was also the island people’s way of receiving news. It was often how they found out about election results or major news events in the world. Once, when young Charlie Osborne had a serious medical condition, a message was sent for a doctor to come from Auckland, a visit that saved the boy’s life.
The pigeon post office that my friend was telling me about was in the town of Brookby and is near where his farm is located (The town name is pronounced brook-bee and named so because it is by the brook). Somehow this post office once fit into the pigeon postal system, but my educator was unsure just how it worked. Since Brookby is east of the main city of Auckland, he speculates that this was a stopping off station for the pigeons after their flight across the large body of water called the Firth of Thames. From Brookby (according to his speculation), the flimsys were transferred to other pigeons to bring them the rest of the way to Auckland, much in the same way that the pony express worked, but using pigeons instead of quarter horses.
The New Zealand Pigeon Post was terminated in 1908 when a telephone wire was laid from the Coromandel Peninsula of the mainland, through the seabed and to the island. But even after this, several places in the world adopted the pigeon postal system when conditions merited it. In fact, it was only in 2002 that the Pigeon Message Service of the Police in the state of Orissa in India retired, due to the expanded use of the internet.
But sometimes even the internet cannot compete with the pigeons. In South Africa in 2009, 4GB of information was sent overland by two methods, one by the use of the country’s largest internet provider, and the other by use of a memory stick connected to the back of a carrier pigeon. The distance over which the information was sent was 50 miles, and information in each case was the same. The pigeon made the journey in one hour and eight minutes, and by the time the people got the memory stick off of the pigeon and downloaded onto the receiving computer, the total time elapsed was two hours, six minutes, and 57 seconds since the time the bird took off from the sending office. And the information sent over the internet? In the same length of time, it had only downloaded about 4% of the total information.
So there you are. Some more information that is unrelated to what we are doing here in the Pacific, but interesting nevertheless. If you have pigeons hanging around your farm at home, you had better take a good look at them. They might have a flimsy for you.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

SHOWERS OF BLESSING

Sometimes the blessings of God come with such force that they almost hurt. But in the end, we feel refreshed.
This is me standing under a waterfall in Vanuatu.
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"And I will make them and the places around My hill a blessing. And I will cause showers to come down in their season; they will be showers of blessing.
"Also the tree of the field will yield its fruit, and the earth will yield its increase, and they will be secure on their land. Then they will know that I am the LORD, when I have broken the bars of their yoke and have delivered them from the hand of those who enslaved them."
(Ezekiel 34:26-27 NAS)
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There shall be showers of blessing:
This is the promise of love;
There shall be seasons refreshing,
Sent from the Savior above.

Showers of blessing,
Showers of blessing we need:
Mercy drops round us are falling,
But for the showers we plead.
    (Daniel W. Whittle)