Sunday, December 31, 2017

OUT WITH THE OLD—IN WITH THE NEW

THE STAFF OF JACOB

Age often obligates a man to use the aid of a cane as he walks. His footsteps are not quite so sure as they once were, and the extra support and steadiness of a staff offers him more security in his steps.

In Biblical times, the use of walking sticks was especially common because the staffs were not only for walking, but also used as a tool of shepherds and others.

Concerning walking canes, there is one particular verse in the book of Hebrews which, for some reason, has long been intriguing to me. It simply reads like this:

By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff. (Hebrews 11:21 NAS) 

In that chapter of Hebrews we read of many men and women who had learned to walk by faith in God. About some of these, the writer of Hebrews has quite a lot to say. However, for Jacob, who has one of the most extensive biographies of anyone in the Old Testament, the writer has given only this single verse.

So much could have been written about Jacob. In his life, we have many examples of experiences from which to draw, both good and bad. Jacob’s journey to a life of faith had many ups and downs, many advances and many retreats. His life was not one of steady and continual improvements.  It is interesting to me that of all the things that the writer of Hebrews could have said about Jacob, what he mentions is that Jacob worshiped, “leaning on the top of his staff.” 

The Importance of Jacob’s Staff
Why was this significant? For a man about so much could have been written, the writer of Hebrews dedicates only one sentence. And, in that sentence, he has Jacob leaning on the top of his staff, as if for some reason that were unusual or important in some way.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

WHAT TWO MOMS DID

You are probably familiar with the biblical story of the baby Moses—how he was put in a basket soon after he was born and placed in the reeds of the Nile River, then later to be found by daughter of the Pharaoh.

But this post is not about Moses or about the princess. It is about the mother of Moses, a woman by the name of Jochebed.

Don’t worry if you did not know her name. It is not even mentioned in the story, and not many mothers in these days would give their little girls this name. I don’t think little Jochebed would make it through middle school. We only learn the name of the mother of Moses later in two of the several listings of genealogies of the Hebrew people (Exodus 6:20; Numbers 26:59).

Usually when we hear the story of Moses, we do not speak too much about Jochebed, but there are several reasons why we should give her some attention. When we consider the story this time, try to imagine what it must have been like for this mother of Moses.

Here is some background for the story of this woman. 

Sunday, December 17, 2017

SOJOURNERS – THE LIFE OF ABRAHAM

Abraham Lifts His Head

In the days when my family and I were preparing for our first overseas move from our home in Wisconsin, I identified with Abraham more than any other Bible character. Like Abraham and his family, that time in our lives was one of sojourning for us.

As we readied ourselves for our future work abroad, we were first required to attend language school in Costa Rica. While living in that Central American country for some eight months, we grew to feel comfortable there, but because we knew we were not in what was to be our home, I myself could not come to the point where I felt completely settled in that country.

Even before that time, while we were still in the US, we needed to travel extensively. We stayed in many different homes and for many nights had different hosts. We often spent long weeks living out of our suitcases. This is often the case in the life of a missionary.

After our language school was completed in Costa Rica, we made our eventual move to Venezuela, where we were to settle and begin our first extensive assignment. However, even after arriving to our new hometown in that country, we could not immediately find a permanent rental house. For some months, we stayed in a house temporarily with a month-by-month rental agreement until we could finally find and settle into the house that would become our permanent house. 

Settling In

Since those early days of our work, our family has gone through several international moves. In my nature, I am a person who prefers to simply find a place and settle in—to make myself at home. However, this has not been the life that the Lord has given me. Through the course of my life, besides in my home country of the United States, I have lived in seven different countries in five separate regions of the world. This is not a description of a life where I have been allowed to “settle in.” On the contrary, in its own way, each move has been unsettling.

The life of a sojourner has its own special challenges, especially for ones like our family who would prefer to settle down and grow deep roots. Sojourning can be disheartening—wondering when you will once again be able to allow yourself to feel completely at home. It was for Abraham, and so it has been at times for us.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

THE LOG CHURCH - KISII, KENYA (part 1 - BEGIN HERE)

As you can see, this is part 1 of a 4 part video. Please begin with this video and go through the sequence. Each video is probably about 2 or 3 minutes long, The blog page placed a limit on the length of each video, so I had to break it up into smalleer segments



THE LOG CHURCH - KISII, KENYA (part 2)

As you can see, this is part 2 of a 4 part video. Please begin at part 1. Each video is probably about 2 or 3 minutes long, The blog page placed a limit on the length of each video, so I had to break it up into smalleer segments


THE LOG CHURCH - KISII, KENYA (part 3)

As you can see, this is part 3 of a 4 part video. Please begin at part 1. Each video is probably about 2 or 3 minutes long, The blog page placed a limit on the length of each video, so I had to break it up into smalleer segments



THE LOG CHURCH - KISII, KENYA (part 4)

As you can see, this is the last segment of a 4 part video. Please begin at part 1. Each video is probably about 2 or 3 minutes long, The blog page placed a limit on the length of each video, so I had to break it up into smalleer segments


Sunday, November 26, 2017

WHY I AM GOING TO KENYA (26)

What now?

Tomorrow morning early, I am to leave Kisii for the seven hour drive to return to Nairobi, where I will stay for two nights. Then it is the plane ride to Amsterdam, Minneapolis/St Paul, and finally to Wausau, WI.

My sermon today at the Log Church of Kisii was a contrast of the life that is guided by faith, rather than a life that follows only those things that we can verify with our senses.

The verse that I based the sermon on was where Paul said, “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). Our learning to walk by faith does not end when we first respond to the call of God upon our lives for salvation—at least it should not be so.

This trip to see the Log Church of Kisii was definitely a step of faith for me. I came with what were few pragmatic evidences that what I would find when I arrived was as I was led to believe, but also with many other factors telling me that it was all a scam.

But I did have one other thing. The Lord told me that I should make the trip. He did not tell me what I would find and he did not give me the assurance that everything would be as I had hoped. He only told me that I must go.

What that meant to me was that I had to face the real prospect of coming and finding no one here. No church. No orphanage. No people. I have been told that this has happened to others who had been set up to send money to “fake” orphanages. I had to face the prospect of returning to my home and being called “foolish” for falling for such a scam.

I had to come to the point of accepting that fact. I may be called a fool. Nevertheless, I was sure of my calling.  If I did not come to Kisii and see for myself why God called me to come, I could not continue on with my life as if nothing had happened. I had to come even at the price of being labeled a "fool" for being so gullible.

This was not the first time that I have done something in my life that was considered foolish by some. I have to admit, when the brothers from Kisii walked into the hotel where I was staying on my arrival to Nairobi, there was a part of me that was simply relieved. What I had been led to believe was true.

But then, I have long tried to live my life based on one simple philosophy—one guiding principle.

When God asks me to do something, I try to say “yes.” 

That’s it. No eruditic (not sure if that’s a word) and finely crafted statement that you would print on a poster with a mountain background to hang on the wall.

So what about my future involvement with the church here in Kenya? Every day, when one of the pastors was speaking, they would off-handedly say, “When our dear Dad comes back,” or, “When our Dad comes back, we hope he will bring our Mum.”

In one of my sermons I mentioned the verse in Acts 18 that says that Paul stayed a year and six month in Corinth, teaching the people the Word of God. It was merely a verse in passing. I barely even mentioned it, and I hope that Pastor Vincent got more out of the sermon than this. But when he took the podium after I sat down, he mentioned the verse again and said that the church in Kisii would want the same—that I could stay with them a year and a half and teach them from the Word.

But then he said this, “He would first need to go back to America to get Mum.”

It is always “Dad and Mum,” or “Daddy and Mummy.” I have been thinking a lot about this and at first felt a bit uncomfortable with it. But I have grown used to it and I see that they actually mean it. They sometimes refer to me when introducing me as  their “mentor” or their “good pastor.”

So what does all of this mean for the future?

I have no idea. This was not something that I sought, nor did I ever see it coming. I do know that any further involvement that requires my presence here would also require the Lord to move many pieces of my life.
But the Lord has already shown me in this experience that I should never come to the point where I say my life is settled.

And I thought that it was.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

WHY I AM GOING TO KENYA (25)

I did not pattern my teachings around the doctrine of predestination for this conference. I am simply going through the book of Ephesians. But here is something else about the doctrine of predestination that Paul mentions in the first verses of Ephesians.

First of all, he says that God “chose us in him before the creation of the world.”

That is an amazing statement and one which we discussed in the conference, but I will not enter into all of that now.

The other statement of Paul's that I want to mention is that we “have been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.”

If you accept that God created you, then you must consider that it was for a purpose, just as Paul’s second statement says. It is logical that this is so. When we make something, we always have a purpose in mind for what we are making. It is to serve a function. Likewise, when God made us, he also had a purpose for each one of us.

By rejecting the truth of the first verses of Ephesians that tell of God choosing us and then predestinating us for a purpose, we then also miss seeing what our purpose in life is. It is no wonder to me that many in America have a difficult time finding meaning in life.

We are so independently minded that it goes against our natures to think that God has determined anything for us. We have pumped ourselves up on Free-Will Steroids. 

However, we conveniently and completely ignore the fact that there is already much about our existence for which we were not consulted. We were not consulted when and where we would be born, for instance, or into which family. Certainly, as any teen-ager will tell you, if we would have chosen our appearance or how our bodies would look, we would have made them much differently.

By pridefully ignoring God’s working in our lives, we are left to find our own purpose in our living.

Paul speaks about this also in the second chapter, where he calls us "the workmanship of God," and that God created us for the specific purpose of "doing good works."

It is my opinion that the reason so many do not find fulfillment in their lives is because they reject the teaching of predestination. But God did not create you simply to leave you alone in the world, floundering for meaning in life.

Know that God has a purpose for you. You have been made specially to do specific tasks for the betterment of your fellow man and to give glory to God.

"I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well."

WHY I AM GOING TO KENYA (24)

I have not written about the Bible conference that we have had going on every day. I think that I did mention that you should not look at it as if this conference were as one that we would have in the US. It basically amounts to about a three or four-hour church service with a break for lunch.

Actually, it is longer than that. I come every morning from Kisii town, which is about a half and hour from the church when the road is good. When I arrive, the service is already going strong. They also have an evening service after I am gone. They tell me that in their evening service they discuss what I taught them during the day.

Many people understand English, but many do not, so I speak with a translator. It is either Pastor Joel or Pastor Vincent who translates for me.

There are actually three languages spoken at the conference. When one of the pastors translates for me, he translates into Ekegussi. That is the local language of the Kisii tribe. However, one morning as I was walking down the hill from the road to the church, I could hear that one of the pastors was preaching in Ekegussi, and someone else was translating into yet a third language. I asked Pastor Joel about this.

“He is translating into Swahili. There are people here from outside the area who do not speak Ekegussi.”

I have been doing a series of studies in the book of Ephesians. It is one of the most important parts of Scripture that teaches about life in the church. Many of the teachings of Ephesians are very deep and some are controversial. One of these teachings is the teaching of predestination.

I will not give the entire sermon at this time (nor do you want me to), but only to note that when Paul spoke of predestination, he merely mentions it in passing. He simply lists it as one of the many blessings that we have in Christ. He did not expect it to be a source of controversy, but rather one comfort. He views the fact that God chose us from before the foundation of the world as an indication of the security that we have in Christ.

This is not the same as saying that we have no free will and that our choices do not matter. The fact that the choices that we make have true significance is also true. It is we who determine our path.

How can this be? From our perspective it must be either one or the other that is true, but both cannot be true. Each one is mutually exclusive from the other.

But we view these matters from a perspective where we cannot see the entire truth of these two teachings.

During the entire conference, I am likening our spiritual journey on this earth as a climb up to the summit of a mountain. It is only from a lofty altitude where we begin to have a perspective that can give us understanding. 

Paul has seen some of these perspectives. And he is telling us about what he saw on some of the mountains that he had climbed. He had received visions with perspectives that are far higher than we can know. In fact, about some of the things that he was shown, he was not even permitted to tell us.

I told the story to the people of one mountain that I climbed many years ago. The mountain was flanked by two rivers, one flowing in the valley to east of the mountain, and the other to the west. I knew from looking at a map earlier, that these two rivers eventually would come together in a common confluence somewhere to the south and become one.

However, from where I was on the mountain at the beginning, it appeared to me that this could never happen. One of the rivers seemed to be flowing in somewhat of a southerly direction, but the other was veering off far to the west. When I saw this, I felt a great need to get to the point where I could see the point where these two rivers converged.

As I climbed higher, the clouds began to form. I prayed that God would keep the clouds away long enough for me to see where these rivers joined together.

“I need to see them,” I said to the Lord. “It is important for me to see where these two rivers become one.”

Finally, as I topped one of the smaller ridges, in the far distance I could see where the two rives finally flowed together. I could not see the entire journey of each river. I could not see what hills and ridges they first had to flow around, but I could see where they came together. The two more insignificant rivers became one mighty flow.

In our spiritual journey of understanding, we are climbing a mountain that has two rivers flowing next to it, one on each side.

One river is named “Predestination” and the other is named “Free-will.” At the moment, to us it seems impossible for the two to become one.

But Paul has seen it. He has been on the mountain. To him, there was no controversy here. There is only the security of knowing that, if we are in Christ, we are Lord’s.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Thursday, November 23, 2017

WHY I AM GOING TO KENYA (23)

(You really need to read these posts in order, so if you have not done so, scroll down and work your way up chronologically)

As I mentioned in the previous post, there were still some children who had not gotten some school items. Specifically, we had come up short of tablets. There were other items as well, and we wanted to buy a treat for the children.

One day, one of the boys approached me and after shaking my hand and telling me his name, he told me, “We would like a ball that we could kick.”

I later asked Joel about this. “Don’t the children have a ball?” I could not imagine a group of school children without even one ball.

“No, they have no ball. They had one, but it became worn out.”

As a matter of fact, there is very little for play items that I could see for this group of about 30 kids—and I think that I have seen everything. Most of the kids are orphans, and there are also a few other children associated with the church. It seemed incredible to me that in this group of kids whose ages range from about 3 to 13 or so, not to have any play things. Not even a ball that they can kick!

There are two places where the staff has set up swings, but they only use nylon ropes about a half an inch in diameter, and the ropes are quickly worn by rubbing against the wooden crossbar.

So, what I had in mind was to buy the kids a soccer ball, and some chain that could replace the nylon chords on the swings.

Going to the store with Pastors Joel and Vincent was a good experience for me. We went to a large department store sort of place in Kisii town and I watched them as they bought with great care the items that we needed. We all picked out the football. I actually was surprised at the price of the best one. It was the equivalent of more than fifty dollars US. But we found a very good one for about $25.

We found the tablets, and Joel picked up a jug of a kind of orange flavored drink. The jug was about two gallons at the most, and I questioned him if it would be enough. It was to be not only for the children, but for all who would be in the church service.

“We will dilute it so that there will be enough for each one,” he told me.

We also went to the candy isle. They wanted to buy a treat for the children. The two pastors looked at the number of pieces in each bag and talked with one another, wondering if they should get one or two bags. I was to pay for the items.

“Should we buy one or two bags?” Joel asked me.

They were not paying, and I told them that they know what they need and they should get what they need. But I did not try to convince them to buy more.

“If you think you should get two—get two,” I answered.

The two men talked some more and ended up putting one of the bags back.

“We will get cookies also. So it will be enough,” Joel told me. The bag of candy that they had put back on the shelf cost about $1.95 US.

We stayed a long time in the cookie isle, looking at the boxes to see how many cookies each contained and comparing the prices. We ended up buying two boxes at about three dollars per box. Each box contained sixty small packages of a vanilla cookie. It would be enough for 120 people to have treat. I tasted them and they were quite good.

When we returned to the church, we had a bit of a program and I had a sermon, but I tried to cut it short. The kids knew we brought treats. They could see the bag in the front of the church.

After the service, Vincent called for the helpers to bring in two pails of “clean water” to mix with the drink that we had brought, and he and some others began to pass out the cookie packages. All the children were so excited. Then, to the great cheers of the kids, he produced the football. It will be well-used.

Joel wanted me to take a photo of all the kids with their cookie packages, which they all held up in the air for the picture. Later, Vincent asked if I would take a picture of the four older girls who had received the notebooks. 

When I went to take their picture, the girls were lined up showing what they had received. The notebooks were there, but in their other hand, each of these girls was holding a package of sanitary napkins. Unknown to me, the pastors had also purchased these when we were in the store. The young women were smiling and so happy to receive these.

It is to this I was referring at the end of the previous post when I said there was something that illustrated the level of need that these children live with. For these young women, now at the age of puberty, what is a treat for them is to receive a package of an item so personal as this.

This morning it was raining, so I was not able to go up to the church at the regular time. The road to the church is uphill most of the way, and it is a packed dirt road. It is ok when it is dry, but when it becomes wet, the mud that forms becomes very greasy.

But since we left Kisii town late, it gave me the opportunity to go to the market and get the chains for the swings. They will be installed soon.



Wednesday, November 22, 2017

WHY I AM GOING TO KENYA (22)

(You really need to read these posts in order, so if you have not done so, scroll down and work your way up chronologically

As I described a couple of posts ago, several of us men, including visiting pastors, retire to Pastor Joel’s house for the noon-time lunch. Yesterday as we emerged, I saw my little children sitting in rows on the ground. It amused me to see that the seating arrangement was much like it had been in the church—the littlest children first with the age increasing as you move back in the rows.

A couple of days before this, two of the pastors had come to my hotel to pick up the items. Since none of us at the Log Church in Wisconsin really knew anything about the children in Kenya, the people of our church did the best that they could. I had written to ask Pastor Joel for some guidance, which is why I had brought so many school items. But as far as shoes and clothing, we only had our guesses.

The pastors and workers knew each orphan, of course, so they separated the items and decided which child would receive what item. There would not be enough for each to receive a piece of clothing or shoes, but they wanted to be sure that all would receive something.

I did not want to be the one who passed our the gift items. Of course I realize that the kids would know that I was the one who brought them, but in any way that I could, I wanted to separate myself from the gifts. These were to be gifts given by the Lord..

The two bags I brought with me on the plane were set in front of the children, and the pastors went through each item. They had labeled the items earlier, so they knew who should receive each gift. The clothing and the shoes were first. They were given to the children whom they fit. In all of this, the children all sat quietly. When someone received a pair of shoes or a shirt, they all clapped.

Then it was the note books. The older children received more than one, since they had greater need in the classes that they were studying. The people of our church had also sent many pencils and pens, and these were handed out one by one.

Our people had also sent perhaps ten boxes of crayons, I think that they must have been sets of 16 or 24—something like that. I assumed that these would be given out to selected children as sets. But also these the pastors handed out crayon by crayon, although Joel told me that some boxes were reserved for a later purpose.

One lady from our church sent two bags of balloons. When the pastor saw these, he said that the children would really like them. Again, in my mind I pictured a party of some kind with balloons hung on the walls and from the ceiling of the church. But again, these were handed out one-by-one.

Every child received something, although not all a clothing item or shoes. And despite my overweight suitcases, there were not enough tablets for everyone. At the end, I saw a couple of the littlest boys holding in their hands a pencil and three crayons. That is what they had received, and they were so excited.

I have to say that the whole event was pretty emotional for me. I was afraid that I would start to tear up, but I managed not to.

In my years in working in these types of situations, I have found these times the most emotional when I first have come from the United States, where the kids complain if they cannot get the video game that they want.

Here at Kisii, when I saw these little faces, each a color of a freshly roasted coffee bean, shining with delight while grasping in their hands a pencil and three crayons...well, I think you see my point.

It becomes less difficult the longer one is away from America. The longer you are gone, the more that you identify with the people themselves and are given the privilege of simply sharing their delight. You can be happy for them without feeling so much pity. That is so much easier and actually the correct way to feel.

Later, Pastor Joel, Pastor Vincent and I went into the town to buy items for the children who still had need of school items. I guess I will have to wait for tomorrow to describe this event to you.

In this, there is another good example of the level of need of these people here.




WHY I AM GOING TO KENYA (21)

(You really need to read these posts in order, so if you have not done so, scroll down and work your way up chronologically)

Yesterday we gave the gifts of shoes, clothing and school supplies that the people of the Log Church of Tripoli, Wisconsin sent for the children of the Log Church of Kenya. I was actually not looking forward to this time, since contrary to what we would hope to be the case, receiving gifts often brings out the worst of our human personalities.

Shortly before I left Wisconsin to come here, a friend of mine, who has worked in clean-up operations in some of our natural disasters, told me of an incident that he experienced after the hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. He told me that a large trailer of a semi-truck emptied its contents in the center of a big parking lot in one of the more poor areas of the city.

In the truck were the donated items given by people from other parts of the country. These items included things like clothing, blankets, food items, some tools such as shovels and rakes, brooms etc.  Things that could be used to clean up the homes and properties. There was even a wheelbarrow.

Once the workers had organized the contents, they opened the gates to let in the people who had lost so much during the hurricane. The first items to go was whatever candy items there were and any containers of soft drink. The people also quickly tore through the clothing and shoes, but if these did not have some kind of designer label, they were left. Not many were interested in the blankets, nor the tools. No one took the wheelbarrow.

A week or so later, the company my friend worked for sent him to gather the remaining items to put into his truck to haul to the landfill. He told me he gathered up probably seventy-five percent of the original contents of the semi trailer, and brought it all to the landfill. My friend said it broke his heart. He especially noted the wheelbarrow, since he would have liked to bring that home, but was not able to. In the landfill it went.

I have had similar experiences, though on a much smaller scale. It is for this reason that I am so hesitant about asking people to donate to a cause. People give with such good intentions, and they sometimes give sacrificially, only to have what they have given wasted or brought to ruin. Like my friend, my heart has been broken.

That is also why I needed to come myself to see the situation here, since contrary to my practice, I had already sent some money here without knowing for certain the true conditions. However, what pastor Joel had written to cause me to send some money sounded very grave, and by that time I had begun to have some confidence in what he was telling me.

Nevertheless, I had not seen the condition in which they were living with my eyes and I had not actually met any of the people. For me to give, I need to know the people. I need to know their hearts. I do not have so much myself that I can give only to have my gifts wasted or squandered, or stolen.

That is why I also did not ask for donations for this trip to see these people. What if I asked people to donate and then, when I arrive, find that I had been deceived? That is why I am so thankful that the Lord supplied me with my cows and for those who bought the meat so that I could come. If you are one of these people – thank you so much. Many of you gave more than the value of the meat itself, but I am sure you are enjoying it. It is the best beef you will ever taste.

Some people also slipped me some money for the Log Church of Kenya, and one couple who are old friends of Vivian and me, sent me a check in the mail to help. To all of you – thank you!

Once I arrived, I immediately knew that the gifts of clothing, school items, and shoes that I brought with me from the people of the Log Church of Tripoli would not be treated as those that my friend told me about in Katrina. I could see that  in the case at the orphanage in the Log Church of Kisii, each one of these items would be used and cherished.

Seldom have I seen people who are living in such need. Theirs truly is a day-by-day, hand-to-mouth, existence. None of the children can go to school, since there are no funds for them to do this. That is why Pastor Joel asked me to bring school items such as tablets and pencils. At the orphanage, they try to educate the children themselves the best that they can. 

Still, it is in distribution events where the worst of our personalities can come out. Yesterday morning, as I sat in the church looking at the rows of cute baby owls sitting on the benches, I wondered what I would see at midday, after we had our lunch. That was when they were to receive the gifts.

Tomorrow I will try and describe this event to you.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

THE SHEPHERD AND HIS SHEEP (PART 3)

By now we have seen that the prophet Ezekiel had much to write about the shepherd and sheep relationship between God and his people. The prophet was writing to the people of his own day, but never have his words been more relevant to a situation than they are today.

God views his people as the sheep of his pasture. Today, the flock of God is found in the church as established by Jesus Christ, and to this day, the flock of God is the most precious thing to him in the world. Because of this, it is understandable why his enemies should try to destroy the flock.

As we continue to read what the prophet has to say, we see that he describes to us yet another dangerous condition that can come upon the church of Jesus Christ.

  • So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them. (Ezekiel 34:5-6)


Sunday, October 29, 2017

THE SHEPHERD AND HIS SHEEP (PART 2)

Faithless Shepherds and Greedy Sheep

For a time, the Good Shepherd lived with us. For a time, Jesus walked among us and led us. “I am the good shepherd,” he told us. “I know my own, and my own know me” (John 10:14 NAS).

But despite the fact that Jesus lived among us, remember that he also told us this: “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep” (John 10:11 NAS). That is exactly what Jesus did; he laid down his life for us.

His death was not to be permanent, however. Jesus went on to say, “No one has taken [My life] away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father” (John 10:18 NAS).

Our Good Shepherd gave his life for us, but true to his word, Jesus took his life up again. Jesus rose from the dead and came out of the grave. After his resurrection, Jesus again was with his small flock of followers, but also once again, it was only for a time. As before, he did not stay. In fact, this time, after a mere forty days and much to the amazement of his flock, as the disciples looked on, their Good Shepherd suddenly ascended into the skies and disappeared into a cloud (Acts 1:9).

Since that day, Jesus has not yet returned to his flock. To this day, he still is not among us. But before he ascended into heaven, he again promised that he would return, just as he had promised to the disciples before he died.

Jesus said to the first disciples and to us, “I will not leave you as orphans. I will come to you” (John 14:18 NAS).
 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

THE SHEPHERD AND HIS SHEEP (PART 1)

The Flock of the Good Shepherd
“I am the good shepherd,” Jesus said. “I know my own, and my own know me” (John 10:14 NAS).

Throughout the Bible, God illustrates his relationship with his people as a Good Shepherd caring for his flock of sheep. From the early days of the patriarch Jacob (or Israel, as he was known in his later years), God was viewed as a shepherd of his people. When the man Israel was in his last days on earth, he told his son Joseph this: “God…has been my shepherd all my life to this day” (Genesis 48:15).

The prophet Isaiah said of the Lord: “Like a shepherd He will tend His flock; in His arm He will gather the lambs and carry them in His bosom. He will gently lead the nursing ewes” (Isaiah 40:11, NAS).

It is true that throughout the Scripture, the Lord is seen as a God who is concerned for the individual, but in addition to that, he is shepherd of his whole flock.

In our present day, with so much emphasis on individual perspectives, we do not speak or think much in terms of the whole church as a flock. Our emphasis is more on the specific aspects that exist for the individuals within the church. We think more about our individual needs.

Because of this, it is easy for us to lose sight of how important the concept of the flock is to God. We are often less interested in the importance of the whole of the Christian church and instead more captivated by programs of self-betterment and individual goals and achievements. These may also be worthy pursuits, but they can easily become centered only on self. It is true that we, as individuals, are important, but it is also important to see the grander perspective of God.
 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

WHAT I SAID TO THE GRADUATING CLASS OF PASTORS IN CUBA


Love and Competition

Several years ago I was asked to travel to the island nation of Cuba as part of a humanitarian aid group. There I was to give the commencement address for the graduates of a small pastoral training school. There were twenty or so graduates.

I had no idea what an appropriate message should be, and I was given no advice concerning things that I should or should not say in that communist society. Before that time, I had given commencement addresses in other Latin American countries, but Cuba was its own case.

For most of us in the United States, Cuba has been a closed country. At least, it was for me. I had not known much at all about what was happening on that island nation. However, as I prepared my sermon, I was drawn to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians because some of Paul’s words seemed to express what I was also feeling at the time.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

AMBASSADORS FOR CHRIST (Part 3)

To help us understand part of what it means to be a Christian, the Apostle Paul likened our position to being an ambassador for Christ.

In the previous two posts, I spoke much of what that position entails. However, there is another aspect in the life of an international ambassador that helps us to understand the Christian life. When considering what it means to be an ambassador for Christ, it is also helpful for us also to consider the existence of the foreign embassy. 

The Embassy as an Overseas Extension of Home

Embassies are interesting and rather unique places. The embassy is the seat of representation of a foreign country within another country. It is also often the dwelling place of the ambassador.

The first embassy that I ever visited was the US Embassy in New Delhi, India, when I was not yet even twenty years old. I remember my visit well. I was living in a small village in northern India in a situation far different from the life I had left not long before in Wisconsin.

After being in my village in India for some months, I made a trip to New Delhi and visited the embassy. I had spent the months before in my village and the neighboring areas eating the local food in dark, little tea stands and in the homes of friends. I had grown to like the cuisine of the country folk well enough, but by now I was eager for some American food. So upon my arrival on the embassy grounds, the first thing that I did was to go to the restaurant there. To my great delight, the embassy restaurant looked a little like a Denny’s or a Perkins restaurant in the US, and had a real menu that was printed in English.

Because of local customs and religious beliefs in the village where I lived, and because meat simply was not available, I had eaten no meat for all those months. So as I sat down at the table, I did not need to look at a menu. I already knew what I wanted before I entered. I ordered a steak and a baked potato. As I looked around me and saw the food that was being served, it appeared to me that everything that the restaurant served had been imported from the states: the meat, the coffee, even the catsup. I still remember being impressed by the catsup. Certainly, I must have been American.


Sunday, October 1, 2017

AMBASSADORS FOR CHRIST (Part 2)

Moses the Ambassador: One Who Intercedes

In the final part of the previous post, in discussing the personality of God, we strayed somewhat from our subject of being an ambassador for Christ. However, in order to see this role of Moses, it is important to understand some of these concepts concerning who God is as our authority. We cannot be God’s representatives without understanding him as well as we can.

But returning now to our topic of being ambassadors for Christ, and using our example of Moses, we see in the story of the golden calf and the giving of the Ten Commandments that Moses was acting as a representative of the people before God. When God threatened to destroy the people, Moses intervened. Moses interceded for the people and he also identified with them. 

As ambassadors for Christ, we also have this ministry of intercession. In another incident, when the judgment of God was again falling on the people of Israel by means of poisonous vipers, the people pleaded with Moses.

“We have sinned,” the people said, “because we have spoken against the Lord and you; intercede with the Lord, that He may remove the serpents from us.” And Moses interceded for the people (Numbers 21:7 NAS, emphasis added). 

“Pray for one another, so that you may be healed,” James tells us. “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (James 5:16 NAS).

 When we pray for people—for their health, for their salvation—is this not the ministry of intercession? Are we not bringing their case before the throne of God? We are, as Moses was, acting in this role as an ambassador for Christ. We are coming before God, representing the interests of others before him. As Moses spoke with God on behalf of the people, we see him in this role as intercessor.

Moses the Ambassador: The Representative of God before Men

Standing on the peak of Mount Sinai, we have seen that Moses represented the people before God. However, when he came down off the mountain, his role as ambassador changed. When he approached the people and stood before them, he was now representing God before the people.
Do you see the difference?

Sunday, September 24, 2017

AMBASSADORS FOR CHRIST

The Apostle Paul says of Christians in 2 Corinthians 5, “We are ambassadors for Christ.” It is a phrase that we hear spoken from time to time, and usually we do not give it much thought. Perhaps we should.

We live today in a time of great internationalism, when the role of the international diplomat has become very important. Even in the day of Paul, ambassadors played an important role. Some of the functions of various kinds of diplomats have changed through the centuries with changing situations, but the responsibilities of ambassadors have largely remained constant.

Taking this office of ambassador as an example, it may be helpful for us to consider, for a few moments, how this relates to being an ambassador for Christ. 

Responsibilities of an Ambassador

Ambassadors are the official representatives of their sending country. Their major task is to represent the interests of their sending government. What the ambassador may or may not feel or believe personally on any specific matter is not as important as what the official position of their government is. In fact, an ambassador normally does not have the freedom to speak his or her own mind on important matters. They receive the position from their home country, and that is what they must speak.

I am sure that this is sometimes very difficult. An ambassador, living in a foreign country, most certainly often sees matters differently than his home government. His view is affected by what he sees and experiences in his day-to-day life in the foreign country.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

HIDDEN LIVES

The Apostle Paul has written this:
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.  Colossians 3:1-4 (ESV) 

In regards to our lives in this world, what we learn here from what Paul has said is that, as expatriates in a foreign culture, our true lives are hidden from the world. The people of the world cannot see or understand us as we truly are.

It is much the same as when I am living in another country here on earth apart from my home in Wisconsin. The people in another place see me as I am in their country, but they can never fully understand how I am when I am in my homeland. I can tell them about the place from where I have come and even show them pictures, but my real citizenship is largely hidden from them. It is something that is beyond their experience.

“We have died,” Paul says, “and our lives are hidden with Christ in God.”

In order to live well in the world, we must first remember this fact. The important things that we do in this world are things that those who are not of our same homeland cannot see. The goals of our lives that matter to us are those goals that have to do our citizenship with Christ, even if these aspirations are now hidden from the view of others.

It seems so simple, and yet it is at this point that we often fail so miserably. To our own disgrace, it often seems as though our greatest plans and our greatest projects are for this world. Most of our effort, it often seems, is to do the best that we can in this present life. We try to make the most money that we can, and accumulate the most material goods that we can. These seem often to be the driving forces behind our efforts.

However, the Scriptures tell us, “Set your mind on things above, not on the things that are on the earth.”

Sunday, September 10, 2017

LIVING WELL IN THIS WORLD

As you might suppose, one’s view of life is affected in many ways by living in a foreign country. At least mine has been. I am not talking about mere travel.  I am not referring to tourism. What I mean is when one needs to settle down for an extended period in a foreign land, long enough where he has to buy or rent a house and set up a residence. I have had to do this (I just counted) six times in six separate countries of the world other than the United States.

This is different than travel or tourism, for in settling down, a person must learn to live in a culture that is foreign to anything that he has ever before experienced. It is possible to exist, certainly, but to live in a content manner is a different matter entirely, and it is not always easily accomplished.

I suppose almost all expatriates (as these foreign dwellers are called) must struggle with this difficulty of living contently while overseas. This especially seems to be true for us fortunate ones—we individuals who have come from loving and caring homes in our home countries.

There are different ways that people find to deal with this inner conflict of living in a foreign culture. It is interesting to note the various ways in which people respond to this change in their lifestyle.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

OBEDIENCE: THE ROAD TO BLESSING

 There are some words that tend to bring about within us an immediate negative or defensive reaction. The word obey is one of these words. A child is often introduced to this word brusquely, accompanied with a wagging index finger in his face from a harsh parent. “You obey me, now!”

The word command may be another, and “I order you to do it!”

One of the first words many children learn is the word no. The child wants to do something or have something, but Mommy and Daddy say no! We learn that we must obey.

Since our first reactions to these words may be largely negative, the words themselves have come to have a negative connotation. In the military, we learn the proper response to an order. Obedience. It is not important in the least if we want to fulfill the order or not, or even whether or not it is a good order. We really have no choice in the matter.

With this backdrop in the formation of our personalities, we then have the danger of having the same frame of mind when we read these words, “You shall therefore obey the LORD your God, and do His commandments and His statutes which I command you today” (Deuteronomy 27:10, NAS).
 

Sunday, August 27, 2017

THE SALT OF THE EARTH

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men” (Matthew 5:13, NIV).
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We today use the phrase “the salt of the earth” to speak of a person who lives his life in a wholesome and unpretentious manner. When we say that someone is “the salt of the earth,” it implies that he is honest and forthright, and living without deceit. In the verse quoted above, Jesus used it in the same way. Unlike many other phrases that have been passed on through the generations and for thousands of years, the meaning of this one seems not to have changed much since Jesus spoke it in the first century.

Actually, as far as what we have in recorded history, the use of this phrase by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount was the very first time that it was used. Nevertheless, because of the important role that salt played in the daily lives and in the thinking of the people of that day, the meaning of the phrase would not have been difficult for his hearers to understand.

Salt was something that these people saw as indispensable. It was, above everything else, a preservative—something that was used to keep food from spoiling and putrefying. 

Salt in History
 Despite the fact that we call it “common table salt,” it was not so common in those days. No doubt in the immediate area of Palestine it was not so difficult to obtain because of the proximity of the Mediterranean Sea (and of course the Dead Sea, or as it was actually known in those days, the Salt Sea).

Nevertheless, throughout history, in every part of the world, “Where to get salt?” has been an important question for entire nations of people. Many of the world’s ancient trade routes were first established for the purpose of trading for and obtaining salt.
 

Monday, August 21, 2017

THE LOG CHURCH - INTO THE SECOND CENTURY

(This is the message that I gave at the centennial celebration of the Log Church)


One hundred years ago the town of Tripoli was a booming community. There was a great sawmill on the bank of the millpond. There were stores, hotels (more than one), taverns (pretty sure more than one), a lumber yard and railway station. Tripoli had schools and even a theater. There was everything that a growing town would need.

Someone gave the town the name of Tripoli. The name sounds like it came from the Greek, and so it did. It means “three cities.” In this nascent town of Tripoli, there was great hopes of promise. Perhaps the community would one day grow to include even the town of Clifford, and possibly even Brantwood. The three cities.

Now we turn the calendar twelve hundred pages – one hundred years. The stores are gone, the hotels and taverns are no more…oh, I think there is one tavern yet, in case someone has a real thirst, but it is not one of the original taverns. The theater is gone, and the train now just speeds on by Tripoli without even so much of a thought of stopping. The schools are gone. Even the sawmill, the enormous engine of the community, is gone.
 

Sunday, August 20, 2017

BUILDING WITH LOGS

For a few years of my life I worked as a log builder. That is to say, I learned the art (that is really what it is) of constructing buildings using whole, round logs.

Building with logs is a world of building not only for form and function, but also for beauty and posterity. It is a world of learning to choose a certain log for a specific purpose, and of discussions about how to cut the notches and the grooves in the logs. It is about how the building will settle after it is constructed. These are discussions that only come up in log building construction, since these issues have no relevance in other types of buildings.

The log builder comes to learn the grain and knots of every log of the building he is working on and to take pleasure in how he is able to shape one log to fit snugly as it is placed on top of the log beneath. The worker must be familiar with the specialized tools and techniques that are a part of building with logs. The windows and the doors, for instance, must be installed by connecting them to “sliders” instead of nailing them directly unto the logs themselves.

As I mentioned above, the log walls in a house will settle in the first couple of years after construction. A wall may decrease in height as much as eight or nine inches. If any window or door were connected directly to the logs, the glass would surely break, and the doors would not open. To prevent this, each window and each door must be specially installed in a manner that only log builders must use. 

The Process of Scribing and Fitting

Building with logs is an incredibly slow process if one is to do it correctly. The form of the top of a log lying horizontally must be carefully drawn with a pencil onto the bottom of the log that is to fit over it. This work of drawing on the top log is done by placing this log over the log beneath and bracing it so that it will not move. Not even a hair.