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.

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 13, 2017

TODAY, I WILL BAPTIZE A BABY


Today, we will be having a baptism service in our church. To be baptized is something that Jesus has instructed all of his followers to do. In that regard, it is like the observance of the Lord’s Supper. We are told that we should do this.

Also, just as Jesus shared in the first communion with his disciples, he himself was also baptized. Jesus did these things as examples for us, so that we should continue in what he taught us.

However, we as a church have not been good at remaining faithful to his intentions in these traditions. It is an unfortunate development that baptism, like communion, is a custom that has historically caused controversy among church denominations.

Last week I spoke of how we in the churches have hijacked the observance of the unity Lord’s Supper to create division within the body of Christ. We allowed this to happen rather than allowing communion to be a sign of the oness of the church, as Jesus intended it to be. It is a sadness for me to say that it is much the same concerning baptism.

Both of these practices are meant not only to represent for us deep spiritual meanings (the greatest portion of which none of us understand completely), but they are to both also be a demonstration of our unity in the body of Christ. But again, like communion, because the entirety of the all of the spiritual implications and meanings concerning baptism is beyond any of our abilities to comprehend and appreciate as a whole, some churches choose to emphasize one certain aspect of baptism, and other churches choose other things.

Thus, as it is in the Lord’s Supper, instead of listening to and learning to appreciate various viewpoints and to learn from them, we have used these different perspectives to draw lines of division among the churches. The sad result is that, in our different church denominations, it is our tendency to arm ourselves with arguments about how our own denomination has the “right” understanding of baptism, and those who do it differently are “wrong.”

Again, baptism is unfortunately much like communion in this regard. If we do take the time to listen to the perspectives of another church, we often listen in the same sense as one would listen to his or her opponent in a debate. We are not really trying to understand the motives involved with what another church believes, but we are instead only listening with the sense of building a counter argument against each one of their points.

Primary and Secondary Beliefs

Because of our upcoming centennial of our church, I have been asked by a number of people in recent weeks if the Log Church is “non-denominational.” My response, of course, always is, “yes, it is.”

I do not know what that phrase, non-denominational church, means to you, but to me it means that when it comes to the secondary beliefs of the church, like communion and baptism, we take time to consider the traditions of others. I call these “secondary beliefs,” because to me, in these there is some room for latitude.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

CONCERNING MY WOUND THAT WILL NOT HEAL

Some months ago an old wound of mine opened up again, and even though by now a good deal of time has passed since this latest episode of the old infliction has come to me, the pain has not abated. In fact, in some ways it has gotten worse. This time, it has set itself deeper within me than it has in the past.

Before this latest occurrence, I thought that this injury would one day be healed in my lifetime. But now, I fear that it will not. It is beginning to look like I will take this pain to my grave.

This is a wound not of my body, but a wound of my soul. It is one that begins to ache when I see the Holy Communion being used to bring separation between believers in Christ. The pain comes when I see that the Lord’s Supper is used for division instead of being a sign of unity in fellowship, as Jesus intended it to be. The wound that has come to me is one of my heart, and is an affliction that actually drains me even of physical strength.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

LIVING IN THE TORRID ZONE

And there will be a shelter to give shade from the heat by day,
And refuge and protection from the storm and the rain. Isaiah 4:6

The sun over my head seared down merciless upon me, blindingly intense and draining me of all energy. I was at the time living in a town in western Venezuela and I was walking across and open soccer field on my way home from an errand that I had to make that day on foot.

The errand began early that morning out in the hills surrounding the village. My journey into the hills had begun in the coolness of the day, and I had not prepared adequately for the heat that I should have known would come later. Actually, my task had taken me further than I first intended to walk, and I was returning home later than I thought that I would.

Our village was in the Andes Mountains. While it was not in the highest of mountain areas, it was still at quite a high altitude. In places such as these, with the thin air and dryer atmosphere, the nights may be refreshingly cool, but the day can warm up quite fast. By noon it can become pretty unbearable to be out in the sun without protection. That is where I was in this last part of my walk, under the full sun with no protection. As I entered the village, there seemed to be no shade anywhere. Now, I was cutting across a soccer field to get back to our home. The heat and the sun had exhausted me of any energy reserve.

I thought that it must be about noon as I walked across the open field. At this point at the end of my journey, the heat and intensity of the sun was more than I could endure. As I made my way across the turf, I noticed that the town had recently erected huge light poles around the field, the bases of which were nearly two feet in diameter. There were no lights on the poles yet, but the poles were in place, ready for the workers to later place them to illuminate the field at night.

I had been hiking under the cloudless sky all morning long. In the hills there had often been a little shade, but not in this last leg of my walk. It had been all intense sun. After enduring the heat of the sun for some hours, I decided that when I reached the other end of the field, I would sit with my back resting on the shady side of one the poles for a few minutes before making the very last of this bit of my return trip to our home.

Much to my dismay, however, as I approached my intended resting spot, I could see no shadow. I walked completely around the pole and was disheartened to find that every side of the light post was being heated by the sun. Squinting my eyes, I looked up at my tormenter above my head and realized that it was indeed noon, and I was in the Torrid Zone at the equinox. 
 

Sunday, July 16, 2017

A PATH THROUGH MÉRIDA

God once provided a path through the Red Sea for the Israelites so that they could pass. Our family also has experienced paths of God, perhaps not to the same extent as did Moses and his people, but nevertheless, we also saw the hand of God in these times. This is a story of one of those times: 

A PATH THROUGH MÉRIDA 

The city of Mérida, in the Andes Mountains of Venezuela, is built on a narrow plateau that sits like a castle high above several rivers that seem to surround it like a moat. It is a college town. The Universidad de Los Andes is there. During the years that we lived in that country, the university had about 30,000 students.

College towns usually have a culture all of their own, but this was especially true in Venezuela where both student and faculty protests and strikes were very common and where the strikes would frequently close down an entire town or even a city. The kids learned it from the earliest grades. It was not uncommon for us to see first and second graders in our own town carrying placards along with the rest of the students of a school, protesting some sort of “injustice”.

Mérida, because of the geography of the mountainous region where it is built, is a long and quite narrow city. There are really only three roads that lead through the length of it. The streets were not built for the amount of traffic they needed to bear when the city grew to its present size, and the downtown congestion was common.

One day we had to drive the length of the city to return to our own home in western Venezuela. Again, things may have changed since we lived there a couple of decades ago, but at that time, there were seldom bypasses to cities in Venezuela. One had to simply drive through the heart of town and hope for the best.

As we approached the city of Mérida, I suppose we should have been immediately suspicious that things were not right when a police barricade blocked off the first main street that we wanted to take.

However, this was not that uncommon. Streets seemed to be almost routinely blocked off for one reason or another, and without further thought, we proceeded to the second street. When we arrived at that second passage-way, we saw that there were cars on it, and they seemed to be moving along.

Well…the word moving may be a little misleading, because once we got in the line of traffic, we realized that they were mostly stopped, bumper to bumper. Nevertheless, since we thought we might have no other choice, we also joined in. With that, in the spirit of driving in the cities in Latin America or perhaps anywhere in the world, we hoped for the best.

We expected the line to move slowly, but as we sat in our car on this hot day, this one became agonizingly slow. As we tediously proceeded, I noticed that the cross streets were absolutely abandoned. In fact, there were very few shops open. No cars were parked along the sides. Something was not normal in the city of Mérida.

As we got nearer to the university and the downtown area, I could really tell something was up. The only street that had any cars on it was the one on which we were stuck in the traffic. The city looked abandoned with all the roll-down steel window coverings over the store windows (for some reason they call these security doors “Santa Marias”), and only a few university students standing idly about on the streets.

I was getting tired of sitting in the car going almost nowhere, and I saw a nice shady place where I could park our car on one of the side streets. I decided to get out and see if we could find out what was going on. Sticking my arm out of my window to try to get the other drivers to make a gap for me, I cut across a line of cars and made my way to our shady spot.

Vivian, our two boys that were with us, and I got out of the car and began walking toward where we saw a group of students standing in the middle of the intersection. As we got closer, our sons began to complain. “The air is stinging my eyes and burning my throat,” they said. Vivian and I really could not sense anything.

We approached the students. “What’s going on?” I asked.

“We are having a protest,” one of them told me.

“Why, what happened?”

Sunday, July 9, 2017

ESTHER’S DILEMMA

Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone – especially to those in the family of faith. (Galatians 6:10)
***************
 
The story of Esther takes place in the citadel in the city of Susa. Susa was located in present day Iran, and is one of the oldest cities of history. During the days when we read of Esther at somewhere around 460 0r 470 BC, Susa was also probably the most splendid of all cities of the world. This was in the days of the first Persian Empire and the reign of King Ahasuerus, otherwise known as Xerxes I. This is where we pick up the story. 

The Party

Ahasuerus, whom I shall just call by his other name of Xerxes, was throwing a big party. In fact, it was a huge party. The invited guests where the nobles and officials from all of his provinces, and since these provinces stretched from Ethiopia to India, this included a lot of people. In addition to these guest dignitaries were also his military leaders. The king took them all around the area to show them his vast wealth and the marvels of his kingdom.

The party went on for 180 days (if you can imagine), and when this time was over, the king then held a special banquet in his enclosed gardens lasting seven days. The garden was bedecked with hangings of white and blue linen, fastened to rings made from silver and placed on marble pillars surrounding the dining area. The wine was served in goblets of gold, each goblet unique. It was open bar. The king specifically instructed all the wine stewards to serve each man as much as he wanted.

It was a party like no other. The king was eager to show off his great wealth. His queen was Queen Vashti. She also was having separate party in the royal palace for the women and wives of the nobles.

The party seems to have been largely a success until near the end, when things began to go wrong for Xerxes.
 

Sunday, July 2, 2017

THE RAVEN AND THE DOVE

Our Man Noah

What was there about Noah that caused God to look upon him with favor?

Like many saints of old, we really do not know very much about this man. We do know that the society of his day was extremely wicked, perhaps more so than any society which has ever lived. It must have been so to provoke such a severe judgement from God.

However, we do not know any of the particulars of the people of that day. We do not know for what reasons God declared the society to be so wicked. Nevertheless, as we earlier read in the account of Noah, God’s assessment of the people demonstrated the extreme depth of depravity to which they had descended.

“The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”

Among the seven things listed in the book of Proverbs that are particularly detestable to God are “hearts that devises wicked schemes and feet that are quick to rush into evil.”[1]

King David wrote of this condition in the book of Psalms:

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.

The Lord looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God.

All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. (Psalm 14:1-3 NIV)

Whatever form that the evil took in the lives of the people of Noah’s day, their immorality was apparently to the point that even their every thought was evil. There was no goodness at all left in them. After God had seen the deep corruption of the world, it was to Noah alone that he came with the news that he had determined to put an end to all people

Somehow, Noah managed to retain his goodness and stay strong in the midst of this evil society. Of Noah, we read, “he was a righteous man and he lived a blameless life among the people of his time.” Those words remind us of another outstanding person of the Old Testament – the man Job. God said of him, “there is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”[2] 

Sunday, June 25, 2017

NOAH THE BOAT BUILDER


The world-wide flood that the Bible teaches took place during the days of Noah is one of those stories that is so fantastically extraordinary that I think that most people in these days do not believe it actually happened. Even some people who believe the Bible have serious doubts about the literal interpretation of the events as they are described in the Scriptures.

This sermon is not intended to be an argument for or against any opinion, but because people are often so passionate about this subject, one can hardly speak on it without addressing some of the geological and hydrological, as well as a couple other aspects of the flood.

Broadly speaking, although I acknowledge that there may be some allegorical language used when describing the events on the flood of Noah’s time, I still accept the events as described as being true. One does not need to be an intellectual Neanderthal to hold to this view, and if you care to do some research, there are some good resources available.

I would first like to address two questions rather briefly so that I can move on to the real topic of this sermon. The first of the two questions is this: Where did all the water come from so that the entire earth could be flooded? And the second question is: How is it possible that one pair of every kind of animal, including the dinosaurs, could fit on the ark?
 

Water, Water Everywhere

Because the amount of water needed to cover the entire surface of the planet is so great, many people believe that the flood did not literally inundate the entire planet, but was a flood that may indeed have been great, but perhaps limited to the local area surrounding that region. To Noah, it would have seemed like the whole earth had been covered by water, but if there had been astronauts circling the globe at that time, they would have radioed back to Houston that most of the planet still has large regions of dry ground (probably Houston would not have been one of these areas).

Sunday, June 11, 2017

THE CHRISTIAN PILGRIMAGE

(Much of this post is a repeat of the blog posts that I made when I went to Ethiopia. However, the people of my church told me that they wanted to hear more about the trip, so I used some of this to speak on a subject that has not traditionally been a part of most Christians in America)

THE CHRISTIAN PILGRIMAGE
 
The town of Lalibela is in northern Ethiopia, and is one of the oldest of Christian pilgrim destinations in the world. As I said in my earlier posts on Ethiopia, the primary reason that I went to that country was to see my son Levi. However, as he and I went up to the town of Lalibela, it was also with a sense of pilgrimage that I traveled to that place. It is this subject of being a pilgrim that I would like to speak on today.
With this in mind, before I tell you about the city of Lalibela, I need to go into a little of the history of how it became a center of worship.
 
Very early in history, even before the birth of Christ, there were communities of people in Ethiopia who had converted to Judaism and practiced their faith according to the Mosaic Law. The exact origins of these communities are unknown and shrouded with many theories (which I won’t go into right now). There are still some of the Jewish faith in Ethiopia today, although many had emigrated to Israel in the 20th century under Israel’s Law of Return.

 
The Birth of Lalibela
 
When we move ahead in history from the Old Testament times to the second century after Christ, we come also to the time of the establishment of the city of Lalibela. Even a great deal of this more recent history is unknown to us, and much is open to the interpretation of whatever historian one cares to read. However, the general consensus is that the city began its role as a site of pilgrimage for Christians during the reign of the king of the region of that time, one Gebre Mesqel Lalibela. It was after this king that the city was named. The first two names, Gebre Mesqel, of the king literally mean, “Servant of the Cross,” for Lalibela was born into a Christian home in the year 1162.