Streets

Thus says the LORD of hosts: Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of great age.  And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets.  (Zechariah 8:4–5)

Half a century before Jesus came into this world, Zachariah gives us a picture of a God-kind-of-city, where old men and women watch while children play in the streets. It is a place of peace – where all things are made right and people flourish. In this section of Scripture, Zachariah tells us that God will return to the city and dwell in its midst. When He does, as G. Campbell Morgan said in his Claim of the Child sermon, it will be a place where the streets will be fit for the kids and the kids will be fit for the streets.

I think we long for such a city, but this is not to be found in many of our American cities. I drove through the midst of my city this week. The damage done to it over the past few weeks saddened me. The elk that has stood at 5th and Jefferson for 120 years was gone. The base of the statue had been burned and it had to be removed to be restored. A protestor sat on the base with an unreadable sign around his neck. The justice center just southeast of the elk was boarded up, litter strewn and covered in graffiti. It stands in stark contrast to Zachariah’s city, where God dwells.

The Elk, then on fire, then gone. Also, The Justice Center.

We used to bring our children to this area to walk and enjoy the city’s beauty. We could wander from river, to park, to sidewalk restaurants and to coffee shops. It was beautiful and inviting. For my family, Portland was an eclectic city where people of all kinds shared it with room for one another. It is what attracted so many people to come and live here.

But we won’t bring our grandchildren to Portland’s downtown. Even before Covid-19, the allure of the streets was already gone, so we stopped coming. It is not clean. It doesn’t feel safe. And now, after the unrest, it assaults any notion of peace and human flourishing. I won’t minimize injustice or the importance of recognizing recent protests. But the aftermath! The streets aren’t fit for the kids.

Why has there been a failure in our time, in our culture, to raise a generation eager to take the baton from us and make the next great contributions to America? We saw some glimmer of this at the outset when the focus was on racial injustice. Healing racial wounds would be a great leap forward in our time. But then we saw young people violently parading through the streets rioting, looting, and burning – hell-bent on destruction. Is this the best we can do? How does wanton destruction move us toward any goal of healing? I have listened to people rationalize this as an important expression of angst, but I don’t see it. They burned an elk statue! I mean, what are we to take from that? The iconic elk was a reminder of the time when these majestic creatures roamed this valley (they still do a few miles away). It has become self-evident that here in my city, many of our kids aren’t fit for the streets.

It is time for us to do some serious soul-searching. Let’s start with injustice. To argue that there is not institutional and structural racism is to live in denial. In city after city, in the areas where largely minority poor populations live, the schools are failure-factories. Fatherlessness undermines the family, which should give children a secure place from which to grow, learn and thrive. Many young men from such hopelessness end up in jail. It’s our history – lash laws, forced labor, redlining and internment camps are also part of my city’s past. It was within the last 10 years that developers saw opportunity to profit in North Portland, forcing its minority communities to be displaced to its outskirts. I acknowledge that my memories of Portland have a privileged skew. But I was hoping we were making progress. And even if there was some progress made, there is much that remains undone. We can’t ignore these inequalities in our nation’s cities where our own American children do not get the same chances to make it. I’m hopeful that civic authorities can determine how to correct policies that got us here.

Where does the church stand in all of this?. How do we step up to make a difference? We don’t need to wait for tax-funded initiatives. What if we become present in a new way? What if we form partnerships with those who are making a difference by mentoring young people who are born into parts of the city where they are seriously disadvantaged? What if we provide scholarships to families who want to escape the failure-factory schools and provide the hope of an education? What if we support prison-based organizations that offer an education to people incarcerated from those same streets?  What if we become foster families or safe respite homes to alleviate families of children in crisis? What if we lock arms with those who are working with refugees and other displaced people groups to help them make the transition to our culture? What if we turn our resources towards uplifting those hardest hit by poverty through no fault of their own – the children?

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.  Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:17–20)

It is time for us to be the ambassadors of reconciliation that we have been called to be. Maybe we could see glimpses of God-kind-of-cities with streets fit for kids and kids fit for streets.

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Battle

On a Sabbath, while He was going through the grain fields, his disciples plucked and ate some heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands. But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?” (Luke 6:1–26)

There are times when those opposed to Jesus seemed interested in dialog. They would outwardly say, in essence, “We like you, but you are doing things wrong and it is upsetting the apple cart.”

But they didn’t like Him. They hated Him! He was messing with their hold on culture. They were losing control. They were losing influence. They could see that the train was leaving the station and they weren’t on it. Until He showed up, they had favor, comfort and they were “right with God” because of their rule-keeping. Jesus didn’t play by their rules. But they thought they still had negotiating power. They thought they had power to determine the course of the train. They didn’t. They’d lost their opportunity to manipulate the narrative, from which they derived power.

This follows in Luke…

On another Sabbath, he entered the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was withered. And the scribes and the Pharisees watched him, to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath, so that they might find a reason to accuse him. But he knew their thoughts, and he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come and stand here.” And he rose and stood there. [9] And Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?” And after looking around at them all he said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” And he did so, and his hand was restored. But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus. (Luke 6:6-11)

They were filled with fury! We are witnessing upheavals in America that challenge us on so many levels; political, racial, cultural, religious.  To quote a 60’s protest song, “There’s battle lines being drawn. Nobody’s right, if everybody’s wrong.” [For What It’s Worth, Buffalo Springfield, 1966]. I find myself asking, have I drawn battle lines? Am I planting myself in fields of opposition? From a faith perspective, how should I respond? As followers of Jesus, we have truth. Do I believe that means I am generally in the right with how I apply that truth about the world around me?

In this discourse in Luke, there are different responses from those around Jesus. Which response would be mine? What about relative to our current cultural challenges?

  1. Will I oppose the things I fear because they are confusing to me or threatening to my comfort?
  2. Will I stretch out my hand in faith and be healed?
  3. Will I get on the train with Jesus, as He is inviting me to do, and be part of a restorative journey?

As we keep reading, we come across this in verse 27…

But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you…  Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back.

 If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same…  But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:27-38)

I don’t see a lot of room to draw battle lines in that. This is where he says, in verse 44, “each tree is known by its own fruit.” And then He finishes this discourse saying, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? It’s about obedience. He is clear, and yet I want to ask Him, as the Pharisees do, why are you asking us to do it that way? If I trust Him, I should just do it. Am I betraying something about Jesus’ call to love by critiquing our cultural contexts? Am I going to sit this one out rather than listening, loving and serving? I believe the Church is being challenged to put faith into action.

That was the mark of the early church – loving and serving even those who despised them. Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in 313, but within a generation, his nephew, Julian the Apostate, tried to use all the powers of the state to launch a pagan revival. He organized a parallel, pagan priesthood based on the Church leadership model. But he saw one obstacle above all preventing a return to the old ways: Christian charity. He wrote a letter in 361 to the pagan high-priest Arsacius lamenting their lack of success:

It is disgraceful that, when no [Christian] ever has to beg, and the impious [Christians] support not only their own poor, but ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us.” (To Arsacius, High-priest of Galatia, Julian the Apostate, 362)

Christian charity. This is where I reflect on all the opportunities we have had to love and serve our community during COVID. We are putting faith into action. I believe that wherever the church has been, the community around it should have become better for it having been there. To be part of what God has been doing here has been a unique privilege. There have been so many meaningful connections and conversations in the course of serving. When she picked up boxes for the 40 refugee families she is caring for, one Egyptian immigrant said, “In our culture, we don’t have people who give like you. If we don’t know you, if you are not one of us, we don’t see you. But you don’t know us and we are not in the same culture, but you care for us. You ask nothing in return. This is so amazing. I don’t even know how to express my feelings for you all. I am so grateful.

This is God’s way. To pour out blessing lavishly through His people. And it is Old Testament, too. In Deut 15:10-11 we read,

You shall give to your [poor brother] freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’ (Deuteronomy 15:10–11)

This is a command to we see beyond the temporal to see the eternal. Christian charity is a declaration that people matter.

I like to quote the great theologian Neytiri, from Avatar, who expressed this very thought when she said to Jake Sully, “I see you.”

We are never more like Jesus when we see beyond the battle lines and see the image of God in others.

That’s my prayer for us… that we would resist becoming immersed in battle, and instead get on the train, Jesus’ restorative journey, with only our trust in Him and a willingness our listen, love and serve those who He loves.

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Malignant

… the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:18)

I won’t forget the day my younger brother called to say he had cancer. Though it was an aggressive form, it was localized and removable by an operation. It was a sobering conversation, but optimistic. We tend to be like that. The odds of his full recovery were good. We prayed, thanking God that it was found early enough to be dealt with. But several weeks after the surgery, he called with the bad news. The cancer had spread. It was Stage III and had metastasized to multiple places in his body. We prayed again, this time with a sense of life-and-death that loomed in uncertainty. It is difficult to be at peace, but we are people of faith. We trust God. As Job said, “though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.

The backdrop for this serious event in our lives was another serious malignancy — the Covid-19 pandemic. It was spreading aggressively. It was deadly. It is still spreading, with new outbreaks even today. And it is equally sobering. There are people in my life (my brother included) with compromised immune systems, so I have altered how I live to reduce the possibility that I will be exposed to it. I still go to work and interact with lots of people, but distance, masks, frequent hand washing — whatever it takes — are my new normal. I live with the looming uncertainty of exposure, as many of us do. And I am at peace. I trust God.

More recently, we have had yet another malignancy rear its ugly head. It started with the killing of George Floyd by a police officer. I haven’t met anyone who wasn’t abhorred by what happened to George Floyd. It became a cultural flashpoint that revealed the deep divides we have in our nation over issues of race. There were protests, then riots. Social and network media gaslighted the already fragile issue we often avoid. It is revealing. We are a polarized nation. There is a cancer eating at us that can only be addressed by sober attention and prayer.

Once you’ve seen a malignancy – once it has been exposed – there is no alternative but to address it. Otherwise it continues unabated. Masking it, pretending it isn’t there, or hoping it will just go away are not options. It is a matter of the heart. I find myself asking the same question many of us are asking. What do we do now? How do we heal it? Violence doesn’t solve anything. Separation only aggravates the divide. It is as difficult to untangle as the Gordian Knot. No, the answer is not simple. But according to James, the path to reconciliation is through peaceful engagement. Just prior to the words above, he says the following,“wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17). As the violence abates and the protests fade and we go back to work with one another, will ours be a whatever-it-takes resolve? Will we embrace a new normal of listening and recognition? Or will we bury it and live under the looming certainty that it will return? Will we find peace? Will we trust God? Will we listen to His word?

… the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:18)

Back to the home front. My brother gave us the latest news two days ago. After months of treatment, the cancer in him is no longer detectable. He is in remission. We got on our knees again and we prayed. We always trusted God, though we would have trusted Him either way. We are grateful beyond measure. My brother will continue hormone treatments as a precaution. The cancer may be in remission, but could return if he doesn’t stay vigilant. There is still a looming uncertainty, but this is very good news and it gives hope for a very different outcome.

My prayer for today is an end to the cultural malignancy that has us polarized and an embrace of peace, with the vigilant attitude that any peace worth attaining is worth keeping.

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Multiply

But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an everflowing stream. (Amos 5:24)

It’s hard to believe we have been under the shadow of Covid-19 for 3 months. When it was just beginning, when the school closed early for Spring Break, we wouldn’t have believed it would last this long, or that the changes we would see to our society would be as cataclysmic. In those days, we only knew that schools would be closed for an extra week and some of the kids at Barnes Elementary who depend on school lunch would face food scarcity.  So we volunteered to make 120 sandwiches and deliver lunches to the kids homes. We lacked nothing. We shopped, we assembled, and we delivered.

Then the governor’s shelter-in-place order made it clear that this was going to be a bit longer than a couple of weeks. So we decided to make 50 family food boxes and deliver them to the families. But the need kept growing. People were losing service sector jobs. Many of the families we were serving do not have access to the state safety net. Within a week, it was 100 families. We started a food drive. We did more shopping. Then the school district approached us, “You can do things that we cannot. Would you serve another 200 families in the wider district?” Then 300. Then 500. Then 700. Then 1,400 families. Each time we were asked I said, “If we can, we will. We’re going to need more food.” We prayed that God would “multiply loaves and fishes” so that we could meet the need.

I reached out to other churches to see if any would assist us. We had more people from sister churches willing to serve than we had openings – friends from Colossae, Bethany Presbyterian, Cedar Mill Bible, Sunset Presbyterian, Parkside Fellowship, Saint John the Baptist and Beaverton Christian. Holy Trinity Food Pantry worked with the Oregon Food Bank to have us declared an emergency food distribution location. Within a week, we had 35,000 pounds of food delivered. The food drive continued to grow as the community heard about what we were doing and consistently filled in where we had gaps. Tyson donated 10,000 pounds of frozen chicken. Sysco donated 312,000 hard-boiled eggs. The school district staff assisted at every level of the work and delivered boxes to families all over the district. The business community helped, as well – companies like Franz Bakery, Grand Central Bakery, Walmart, Restaurant Depot, Portland Baking Company, New Seasons, Grocery Outlet, Winco and Costco.

The Beaverton School District food box partnership comes to a close this week as the official school year closes and the USDA Farm to Family food box program serves this population for the summer (we will be a distribution location at B4Church). And we will continue to serve about 200 families with assembled boxes through August. We want to celebrate what we did together over the past 13 week…

The Beaverton School District food box partnership comes to a close this week as the official school year closes and the USDA Farm to Family food box program serves this population for the summer (we will be a distribution location at B4Church). And we will continue to serve about 200 families with assembled boxes through August. We want to celebrate what we did together over the past 13 week…
• 550 boxes/week
• 1,400+ families served in the community
• 18,000 pounds of food delivered each week
• 100,000+ items of food donated
• 130,000+ pounds food from Oregon Food Bank
• 350+ staff and volunteers from B4Church
• 8 partner churches
• 60+ volunteers from other churches
• 100+ volunteers from the Beaverton School District (packing + Delivery)
• 10,000 pounds of chicken
• 312,000 hardboiled eggs
• Total pounds of food: 234,000+
• Total number of families served: 1,400+
• Total number of volunteers 500+

That’s multiplication! If you had asked me to put together a program to feed 1,400 families out of limited church funds I would have been overwhelmed. I can be creative, I can initiate and can be organized, but I know a challenge when I see one. “For My yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 11:30).” I was reminded by God that it was not my program. It was not anyone’s program. It was His. Because He sees people in need and does something. He is the God of love. And we are His people, privileged to serve.

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Magi

“Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7:38)

MagiIt is hard to imagine this world without Magi Goro. On Sunday morning, while standing in the pulpit and preaching about the cross, Magi suffered a massive heart attack. At the age of 56, he left this world and entered Heaven. I am still shell-shocked at this devastating news. He has been a good friend and an inspiration to me. I don’t know many people who have had more impact on more lives than this man and his wife, Debbie. As a testimony to the impact he has had, there are 25 babies in PNG named after him and 14 after Debbie! They have tirelessly shepherded communities in their corner of the world for decades.

As a young adult, Magi lived in one of the most dangerous slums of Port Moresby among his Highlands clansmen. They were mean streets where life was cheap and murder common. He was a competitive bodybuilder who was able to hold his own in those streets. He was also a self-trained mechanic who was creative enough to get things running when they were way past their time. It was Titus Luther, the PNG Foursquare National Youth Director, who mentored him in the faith. Magi then joined a ministry called Living Water as a mechanic and drilled hundreds of wells. “Dig a well, plant a church,” he would say. And so, he did.

Magi was a well-driller by trade and a pastor by calling, which he lived out in every expression of his life. He was transformed by Jesus Christ and lived to share that good news with as many people as would lend him an ear. The Goro’s love for the people of PNG poured out of them. He and Debbie encouraged people to be the men and women God created them to be. They shared the gospel, trained drillers, raised pastors, taught work skills, counseled families and released people in the power of the Holy Spirit. They carried a burden for many, many people. Pastor Debbie focused on teaching skills to women that would empower them. Magi visited village after village in order to provide a way to purify the drinking water which had been contaminated by typhoid and other coliforms. Because of the massive dislocation of people who were driven out of Port Moresby into the surrounding bush, typhoid was taking a toll on newborns. But thankfully, there are children alive today who would have been lost to that and other water-borne diseases.

Magi and DebbieI am reminiscing the many stories he and Debbie told me about family, small village life, the Port Moresby city slums, history, miracles, and their own Jesus stories. I remember sitting on his back porch after a kaikai (Pidgin for feast) when he showed me his grandfather’s handmade arrows, which were actually used for both hunting and battle. His was a story of humble beginnings and God-sized dreams.

Out of Magi’s heart flowed rivers of living water. He will be missed. I miss him already. Please pray for his family and the church in PNG as they grieve over this loss.

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Faithful

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:23)

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Like many boys his age, Hermann loved to climb trees. The lively eight-year-old was confident. He strove to mimic the effortless skills of the Guatemalan Howler Monkey native to his country’s forests. During one climb he reached for a higher hold. Hermann lost his grip, slipped, and fell nine feet head first onto the pavement. Doctors offered little hope for the unconscious boy who was rushed into their care.

Lord, I asked you for a son and now you will take him away? No!

Even so, his mother kept a prayerful vigil at his bedside. After several days without improvement, the neurologist told her that Hermann would not make it. Even if he did, the doctor claimed that Hermann would be brain damaged. But his mother would not give up. Hermann’s uncle repeated the doctor’s words to her and said, “Be ready for the Lord to take him home.” He was preparing her for the worst, but it only made her dig in deeper. She was angry at God until her sister came to pray with her and said, “Give your son to the Lord.” She heard the wisdom in that counsel and finally surrendered praying, “I live for the glory of God. If Hermann lives, Lord, let him live for your glory. If not, he is yours.” Her son woke up the next morning as though nothing happened. There was no neurological damage at all, save a slight cast in his right eye.

Guat kidsGuatemala is less than half the size of Oregon. Sitting astride the Ring of Fire, it has 37 volcanoes, some of which still plume. When Spanish Conquistadors arrived, they drove most of the Mayan people into the mountains seizing the region’s fertile plains. They enslave others and imposed Catholicism on everyone. Today, most of Guatemala’s 50 million people are nominally Catholic but retain some belief in their ancestral gods.

Hermann grew up in a family with a rich legacy of faith, the oldest of five siblings. And they are very poor. Most villages lack electricity or running water. Those with homes live in bamboo shacks and adobe homes. Poverty was something shared by most Guatemalans. Ever mindful of his people’s physical and spiritual needs, Hermann’s grandfather was the pastor of a church in the city who often went to plant churches in remote Mayan villages. Hermann’s mother, a teacher, was a leader in Granddad’s church. His father opted for a career in firefighting, risking his life for people he did not know. Both gifted Hermann with a legacy of service.

Guat HomeHermann recalls a time after high school when he and a group of youth from his church took a bus ride for about two hours to a remote village. They got off in the middle of nowhere, then hiked into the mountains for another hour through snake-infested jungles. Arriving at their destination, they began inviting people to gather under a nearby tree and hear about God. After several weeks of powerful meetings, the villagers became more hospitable. They offered to share water with them. This was no small courtesy since villagers hiked an hour to their water source. As Hermann took the glass offered to him, he thought, “Should I drink this?” Water-borne diseases were a major problem in these villages. And then he remembered what Jesus had said, “…these signs will accompany those who believe… if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them…”

Hermann drank the brown, untreated water and never got sick. Had God made it holy?

As their stay came to an end and they were leaving the village, a lady stopped them, “Please come and pray for my daughter. She is feverish with vomiting and diarrhea.” The group was in a hurry to catch the last bus home, but Hermann still went with the woman and prayed for her daughter. He recalls praying the fastest, most uninspiring prayer he had ever prayed. He had to finish fast so he could catch the bus.

When Hermann returned with his family the following Sunday, the mother stood up in the service. She declared, “Twenty minutes after you left, my daughter was completely healed.” Hermann remembers that the church in this village began on that day. Every one of those villagers had seen the power of God and they responded in faith.

Sitting at a table, enjoying the alluring aroma of Guatemalan coffee rising from his cup, Dr. Alb shares how the Lord led him to become a missionary doctor to his country.

Hermann had a front row seat to miraculous happenings throughout his teen years. But he felt the tide of his life pulling him from ministry and in a different direction. He recalls his uncle, a physician, saying to him, “Hermann, become a doctor. It‘s a money tree.” Determined to rise above the poverty of his childhood, he resolved to do so and worked hard to earn his MD. Along the way, he married Linda, a teacher, who he had met at a Christian youth conference. They looked forward to a good life filled with good things. And, of course, he planned to use his wealth to serve God.

As he finished medical school, his pastor invited him to help him with medical clinics in rural villages. He saw many patients and many healings, both medical and miraculous. Besides the care they provided, the team shared the Gospel in every village. Hermann was again impressed by the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit. As he was driving the team’s van back to Guatemala City on one particular trip, the others were singing worship songs. Without warning, God said to him, “My son, I have chosen you as a pioneer. What you have seen these days is nothing compared to what you will see. Serve me and I will bless you and prosper you.” Weeping with joy, Hermann pulled the van to the side of the road. When he told Linda about it, she said, “If the Lord said so, let’s do it.” With that, the course of their lives changed. Hermann thought he knew why he wanted to be a physician – so that he would not be poor. Now he understood why God wanted him to be a physician – to bring the word of God to the people of Guatemala. But there would be no money tree.

And so there were challenges. As they began, a benefactor gave them a wrecked 1977 Toyota. They had to pay $400 to fix it. But they trusted God and he met their needs in small and unexpected ways. Hermann began crisscrossing Guatemala, healing people and sharing God’s love. He and Linda teetered on the edge of poverty but they kept recalling God’s words. They were certain that he would take care of their family as they focused on his work.

They remained frugal and were finally able to set aside a little money each month for a house. They were getting close to their financial goal when God said to Hermann, “Give the money you saved to your pastor.” He shared that with his wife, sure she would balk. Linda said yet again, “If the Lord says so, then let’s do it.” Far from suffering lack after giving away their savings, God began to bless them. Medical teams from the U.S. started to contribute, providing resources for their missions. The ministry Hermann and Linda founded began to grow in reach and influence, as the fragrance of God’s work among them spread ever farther.

Guat Her

Hermann, Linda and me

Every morning when Dr. Hermann Alb wakes up, he sees a cross-eyed face looking back from the bathroom mirror while he shaves. His skewed eye is a memento of God’s miraculous hand on his life. He has thought about having surgery to fix it but always relented. He likes the reminder of the faithfulness into which he was born, and of the faithful God who can do anything.

 

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Deployed

“… and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

Fourteen hours of flying in the economy section. Not something I was looking forward to when I boarded the Emirates flight to Dubai. The span of my shoulders is 2 inches wider than the standard airplane seat. At least I had a seat on the aisle, so I could lean outwards and not intrude on the space of the person who was unfortunate enough to have the middle seat. While waiting to board, I saw another wide-shouldered guy in line behind me and considered the odds that he would be next to me in the middle seat. No way! Yep, he was.

DeployedWe joked about our misfit for these seats as he sat down. Gary was on his way to Afghanistan. He retired from the military two years ago and is now an intelligence contractor.  He was home with his family for a few weeks over Christmas break and now on his way to a nine-month deployment. When I told him I was a pastor, he asked me, “so will you give me a biblical, theological answer to the question of war?” He had given up on faith on his first deployment.

What unfolded over the next hour was a transparent and soulful search for answers. Gary grew up Catholic. He got involved in an evangelical youth group when he was fourteen and he was all in. He studied the Bible. He felt called to be a youth pastor. He met the girl he would one day marry in a church group. Then he went to war. The carnage he saw blew up everything he believed about this world and the God who created it. To him, the evidence no longer added up to what he thought he knew of God.

Gary’s wife was still a strong believer, has a Bible study group, and prays for him to come back to faith. And here he was crammed on a plane on a fourteen-hour flight next to a pastor. I remembered reading of a man who said, “I don’t believe in God anymore… but I miss Him.” Everything in me said that Gary was like that man. The longing was there, but the obstacles were seemingly insurmountable.

So, doubt by doubt, obstacle by obstacle, we explored the questions that remained unanswered of the God he knew in his youth. I took my Bible out and we searched the Scriptures for things that spoke to his doubts—precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little, there a little. I sensed the powerful presence of the Spirit during our conversation. As we wound down our discussion, Gary thanked me.  He said I gave him some answers and some things that he would be considering as he explored the possibility of a renewed faith. I encouraged him to get a Bible again and open His heart to a God who would speak to him in the midst of the doubts that vexed him.  He asked me to pray over him. So, at 38,000 feet over northern Canada, I was able to pray for a man whose journey was surprised by an encounter he didn’t expect.

Gary was deployed to serve the military. His role in signal intelligence was complimented by others who worked on other kinds of intelligence. He spent most of his time pouring through details in order to find anything that could shed light on the situation in the field. We are both collaborators.  I was on my way to Nepal— deployed by my church to work with a Christian school that is giving children a hope to be something more than an indentured servant for life, a certain fate for most of them. Or maybe I was deployed by the faithful prayers of his wife to collaborate with Gary on a long flight. Or both. Praise God.

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Worship

Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! (Psalm 150:6)

nepal“In Nepal, we all look like we’re about to go somewhere,” Sheila laughed. We were meeting in the home of Dave and Sheila,* our friends in Nepal, and were all bundled up in gloves, scarves and jackets. Though the weather in Kathmandu typically ranges from upper 30s to lower 50s at this time of year, homes aren’t heated. You simply dress for cold when you wake up in the morning and go about your day.  It’s like being at an elk camp in Eastern Oregon, only with a whole nation.

Last week a few of us had the privilege of visiting a Kathmandu school. The school was in need of teacher training for their new teachers, many of whom haven’t had much experience. The school administrators are working to change the school environment from rote learning to participative learning. I was with a group of experienced teachers, so we rolled up our sleeves to help out.

Dave and Sheila have been in this city for many years. They run a couple of boarding homes and have rescued hundreds of children from the streets and from trafficking.  Until they began purchased the current school, the kids had to be farmed out to local schools. Dave and Sheila prayed for years that they would be granted authorization to start a K-12 school, but the Hindu community where they live would not let them do so. But this school, registered in their district, was offered for sale because of financial distress and they were able to buy it. Now there are hundreds of students enrolled at the school.

A bit more about Dave and Sheila. They have adopted a large family. They have four Nepali daughters, one American daughter, one Filipino daughter, two sons-in-law, three grandchildren, and an assortment of other folks who are like spiritual offspring to them. They are collectors in the best way! A family tradition in their home is to have Sunday night worship together. We were invited to join them. There are no adequate words to describe the night we shared, but it was moving. We sat in a large circle (in our winter coats) while Dave and one of his daughters led worship with guitars. I joked later that a requirement of being adopted into the family was to have a voice like an angel, because we were surrounded by the most angelic harmonies I could imagine. We got lost in the worship. There were occasional times when the instruments would play quietly while the members of the family would share Scripture or a word from God or a prayer. This is their family tradition since the kids were little and all of their now adult children try to be there. Even when there have been trials and strains in family dynamics over the years, this was the time of peace no one wanted to miss. Family worship. Intimate, life-giving, full…. beautiful. Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place. I wish it didn’t have to end. We could have gone on for hours.

When the evening was over, we retired to our rooms in the guest house and crawled between layers of cold blankets waiting for body heat to warm them up, grateful to be serving in this place. Please pray for Dave and Sheila and all of those who minister faithfully in Nepal.

*Names were changed to protect anonymity

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Dancin’

Dancin 1I don’t know the name of the ant that I encountered in the jungle here. It turns out that there are 1,393 species of ants in Papua New Guinea. ​This ravenous carnivour is just under a centimeter in length. What they lack in size they make up in numbers and ferocity.

 

Dancin 2We had come to this area to teach a group of jungle villagers about how to filter the unsafe river water they were drinking. ​ I found a spot to take a few pictures of Pastor Magi Goro teaching the villagers. ​Little did I know I was standing on an ant hill.  I didn’t notice the stealth army at first. I was dressed in sandals, loose fitting safari pants and a loose fitting shirt. ​The ants were undaunted. By the time I was aware they were on me they had already invaded every available space.

Dancin 3The only way to deal with them was to move. I was dancin’. Dance moves and Mark Nicklas have never occupied the same sentence – but I gotta tell you – I found moves that would make a hip hop dance look lame. ​The locals ran to my aid and swatted at the ants while I leapt and shook and gyrated in every possible way to get them off me. ​I am glad my compatriot, Jim, didn’t have the camera pointed my way.

Dancin 4After the ants were mostly gone (a few crept out of clothing and pockets for the next 20 minutes keeping me hyper-alert)​, I was able to enjoy the faces of people drinking clean filtered water from the river.

The impact of the water ministry here is astounding. Villages that had dysentery and typhoid and cholera, particularly affecting children, are ​drinking clean safe water. 1,000s of people have been touched already, due significantly to the resources of Beaverton Foursquare. Please pray for Jim and I – no more encounters with “wild animals” – just a fruitful, Gospel-centered clean water mission.

Dancin 5
From down under….
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Eclipse

Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. (1 Corinthians 2:12)

In the zone of totality, a phenomenon that cannot adequately be described happened at 10:18AM on Monday, September 21. The only other celestial display that holds a candle to it is a night sky awash with the Northern Lights.

EclipseAs we sat in an open field, it got dark and cool… and still. The air felt electric. We watched through NASA-approved glasses as the moon cut its path across the sun. An orange globe became a narrower and narrower crescent until all at once – in a surreal moment – the glasses went dark. We removed them and looked again. The moon had obscured the sun. Its light was concealed. But the corona of the sun exploded into the sky, revealed in all its cosmic glory. We could even gaze on it with naked eyes. It is hard to describe the feeling, though everyone in the path of totality knows it. It was brief, but so awe-inspiring that those who saw it attest, “it was worth it.” Worth the early drive, the wait, and the traffic home. If I can ever see another, I will not miss it.

A number of people who live within a stone’s throw of totality said things like, “it’ll get dark here, too,” or “it’s only two minutes long,” or “hey, we have 96% coverage so we’ll see the same thing.” But they didn’t. Not even close. Those who did experience it are not going to be able to adequately describe it. We are an exclusive club defined by the undefinable. It would be like trying to describe diving into Caribbean water to someone who has not done so. No matter how good the explanation, it cannot suffice for full immersion.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:14-16)

When I first began to respond to the invitation of the Holy Spirit… when I moved hesitantly but hopefully towards Jesus… it was like the watching of the eclipse with those glasses. I was beginning to see something. I could tell that more was about to happen and was compelled to press in. I learned about Jesus. I read the Word. I began to identify with things that might have seemed difficult to me before. But I’m glad I didn’t stop short of full immersion. Because when He finally fully revealed Himself in the most indescribable encounter imaginable, the scales fell off my eyes. Like that eclipse moment, a world I had not known came to light and the power and presence of God became personal. I could hear His voice. He was with me (still is). The world would never look the same. And I became part of a community defined by the undefinable. I don’t say that as a point of arrogance as though I have figured out something exclusive. Far from it. It wasn’t by cleverness that I responded, but by His loving invitation. Pride is one of the things you give up when you surrender to Jesus. There are only humble people in Heaven living in the presence of a humble God. His hand is outstretched to anyone who would seek Him.

… seek the LORD your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul. (Deuteronomy 4:29)

So, to my friends who believe and want to know Him more, seek Him with all of your heart. Press in and know Him. Read His word until it saturates your very being. Total eclipse. Full immersion.

 

 

 

 

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