Friday, March 23, 2018

Living With The Lost

“How can you live in a country where you know most of the people are going to   hell,” the PhD student in theology asked?

My friend, who has lived in south Asia for almost thirty years, in essence replied,
“One day at a time, as salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16) to those who do not yet believe in the living God or His Son, Christ Jesus.”

What troubled this American visitor was seeing idols and shrines throughout the city.  He was overwhelmed with the superstition and the rituals that Hindus perform just to get to the next level of existence, whatever and wherever that is.

Of course my friend could have also answered the young theologian this way…that every Christian, in every part of the world, lives every day with people who are going to hell.   And, though this a reality, why does it not bother us as much to live among the lost in our own country as with the lostness of those in other cultures? 

Two reasons.

First, the blindness to our own idols.   Idol worship is of course adoration to an object that we pray (sometimes literally, but not always), which will provide for us success, happiness, health and fulfillment.  To many people in West the idols of materialism have more tentacles than the arms of Lakshmi (goddess of wealth, fortune and prosperity).  The average U.S. household credit card is over $15,000.  On top of that there is mortgage and car loan debt.  Somehow falling down prostrate to a flat screen TV, a diamond ring or the latest Xbox game doesn’t have that same queasy feeling of depravity as burning candles before the statue of Buddha.

Of course there is also the idol of family, career, ideology, equality, political affiliation and seemingly the most important issue for happiness (if you believe the media) sexual orientation. 

Psalms 115 describes idols as gods made of silver and wood that have eyes but cannot see, mouths that cannot speak, ears that cannot hear, etc.  And while idols cannot see, most Americans have eyes that cannot see their many gods.

Secondly, the reason we can’t see the lostness of people in our own culture is because of our culture…the culture of Christianity, and it takes two forms.  (a) We have just gotten so use to the godless culture that it has become the norm.  Divorce, pre-marital sex, bad language in public and in movies and soft porn that is invited into our homes each night, is enough to make a Muslim blush, but we hardly notice.  I heard someone say recently that they don’t even hear the “F” words in the movies anymore, as it just seems to be just a part of the dialogue.  We writhe in righteous pain of heart at the sight of those who crawl around a Buddhist stupa, but we’ll pay $15 to let the culture norms of our day entertain us.   Eyes that no longer see, ears that no longer hear.

(b) Everyone is a Christian.  I think part of the problem of the young theologian is there weren’t enough people like him around and he was uncomfortable (perhaps that is why he is studying theology, so he can surround himself with the saints in a Christian university). 

In America, 84% of the population claim to be Christians (in Dallas it’s a bit higher).  It’s pretty easy not to see the idol worshippers when they are us.  However, 49% of professing Christians say they rarely attend church, the other 51% at least once a month.  12% give 10% of their income to Christians work  (the church or missions) and less 20% read their Bible daily.  Cultural Christians, like cultural Muslims and Hindus, just assume that if we give at least verbal assent to our faith that we’ll make it to heaven, paradise or wherever, by-and-by.

An even greater challenge to the PhD student might be, does he (or we) even know truly lost people?  It’s easy to rub shoulders with those on the road to perdition in Katmandu, but what about the damned in Kansas City?

The truth is, we should never get use to living with lost, whether it is in Mumbai or Memphis.   Like my friend in Asia, each day, one day at a time, be salt and light no matter what idol city we live in.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Dropping Eggs for Jesus

It’s Easter!  The Resurrection, a time to celebrate the EMPTY TOMB, to rejoice that our Lord Jesus is not dead, HE’S ALIVE.   Easter, a time to DROP EGGS from a helicopter!


Yes, several of my pastor friends are dropping candy-filled eggs from the skies in about a week.  So far the largest amount of eggs I’ve heard that will be dropped is 20,000.  The purpose of the egg drop is so kids in the city/town will have a fun event and hear the resurrection story and be introduced to the church.

As I heard and read about this truly American Christian extravaganza my mind went back to my early years in Kenya as a church planter.  My ministry experience prior to serving in Africa was a pastor in Texas.  We had all kinds of gimmicks in the ‘70’s for outreach, from dunking the pastor in a water tank to enticing kids to get on our church bus and get a toy (sounds a bit creepy these days).  Of course, we’ve bribing teen-agers for yeas to come to church through the allure of pizza (and no, extra thick cheese crust and anchovies is not the equivalent of five loaves and two fishes).  I’m not knocking egg drops; it’s very creative and very American.

Forty years ago I took this gimmick mindset to Kenya and said to the pastors one day, “Let’s have a special Sunday and call it Friend Day.  Those who bring five or more friends will get a small Bible.  If they bring ten or more friends they will get a big Bible.”

The Kenyan brothers looked at me like I just greeted them with my left hand.

“Why would we give people a prize to bring someone to church,” they asked?

Honestly, I didn’t know how to answer them and, a bit embarrassed.  Hidden in their answer to me was, “Isn’t the reason we would bring our friends to church is so they can hear the Gospel and maybe receive Christ as their Savior?”

What that conversation taught me, and many more throughout the years, was first, someone working cross-culturally should study and understand the host culture before they do anything (that’s why I teach missionary anthropology, a class I didn’t have four decades ago).  Second, don’t be quick to use your home culture as a model for methods of outreach. (Those going on short-term trips, are you listening?)

Kenyans, like many people in the world, are more relational than task oriented.  People are the goal, not the event.  Africans will sit for hours just visiting.  They are not in a hurry to get to church and they sure aren’t in a hurry to go home after the final amen.  Attending services on Sunday is usually an all day affair.

This Easter I will be worshipping the risen, living Savior in West Pokot.  No candy-filled eggs will be dropped but it will be a great day to be with friends, lots of singing and dancing.  Not only will we celebrate His resurrection, but also we will experience the miraculous…of seeing people once dead in their sins come to life, eternal life, in Christ.  I promise you, it will be more spectacular than a helicopter egg drop!

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Conflict and Resolution. Dealing With Gossip

“Pastor,” the woman on the phone said to me, “I just wanted you to know that there is a rumor going on in the church about you.” 

“Really. ” I replied. “And what are they saying?  Who is saying these things?”

“I’d rather not say,” she continued.  “I don’t believe what they are saying is true but thought you should know.”

My reaction to her, “If you don’t have the courage to tell me who is spreading gossip then you really shouldn’t call me.  It serves no purpose and I assume that perhaps you are part of that slander.”

That conversation took place over forty-five years ago when I was a pastor in the states and it comes to mind as I prepare to teach Conflict and Resolution in Kenya next month.  Gossip and slander is often the foundation of conflict in the church, in business and personal relationships. 

How should you confront gossip or slander?  My rule has always been if rumor or slander is circulating, first, find the source, pick up the phone or write a note and just ask the person, without accusation, the merit of the talk.  “Mr. So-in-so said you were involved in saying something negative about your boss (pastor or friend).  Is that true and if it is true, what is that you are saying so we can get clarity on the matter.”

Two things will take place when you confront slander head on.  (a) The truth will come out quickly and, (2) when it is known that all parties are named in gossip there will be fewer people in the future engaged in tongue wagging.

This actually happened to me about a year ago.  An individual, who slandered me in the past, told my brother-in-law that I was going to sue this guy.  My brother-in-law picked up the phone and asked me about it.  I laughed, not that it was that funny but a bit sad.  Pathological liars seemingly have no problem making things up. My reply to my brother-in-law was, “That’s news to me.  What day did he say I am suppose to be in court?”

In conflict the old adage is true, there are always two sides to a story.  If a person hears gossip and doesn’t try to get the other parties side of the story then they are as guilty of slander as the ones who promotes it. 

A few years back some terrible things were said about my wife and me.  For the most part I just ignored it, but it did deeply hurt some relationships.  The slanderer, which is most often the case, made accusations to justify him and gain sympathy for his position.  None of those who listened to his smears have contacted me to hear the other side of the story, which tells me a lot about them and their character.   As far back as the Old Testament the Scriptures admonishes,  “Do not spread false reports. Do not help a guilty person by being a malicious witness (Exodus 23:1).  (Note that if one listens to gossip and does not challenge or get the other side of the story, they are enablers of slander, as guilty as one who spreads false accusations).

Second, another advice to those who are accused, for the most part, just ignore them, if you can.  Those who would spread gossip about me I will either confront or I will ignore and, more times than not, its the latter.  Life is too short and I refuse to spend energy trying to defend myself to people whose opinion does not affect my relationships with those I really care about.  I will always deal with slander or gossip that touches my wife, kids and friends or impugns my work for Christ.  Those I am responsible to and those who pray for me I owe clarification and honesty at every level.  But, to those who don’t have the decency to ask me my side of the story and have no interest in my family or me on a regular personal level, I owe nothing.  In reality, to engage in defending myself for the approval of people who are co-slanderers would be a sinful pride issue on my part.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Is Every Christian a Pastor?

The first question on the survey I sent out a couple of weeks ago asked, “Is every Christian a missionary?”  60% of the respondents said “yes.”

To paraphrase Bishop Neil, (“If everything is missions, nothing is missions”) If everybody is a missionary, nobody is a missionary.

I often hear pastors say, usually at a conference of some sort, “missionaries, at our church are our heroes.”  Given the results of the survey every Christian is a hero.

I understand the confusion of the meaning of what is a missionary?  It’s true, every Christian should be a witness for Christ; that we are all called to do the work of an evangelist, that the world is the field and all need to hear the Good News of Christ and His salvation.  But, because definitions matter, what the survey revealed to me was that some people (certainly not all as a good number of respondents gave clear definitions of what a missionary is and what is mission work) really have no comprehensive understanding of the role of a missionary, what he/she does and, in some ways, what the Great Commission is all about.

Clearly, not every Christian is a pastor and most people would agree that to be a pastor is a specific calling with unique gifts.  Why then is it that all Christians are missionaries?  Are those who leave their home country, family, profession, learn a different language and commit their lives as an alien in a foreign country somehow the same as Christians who remain a witness in their own culture?  Is the work of taking the Gospel to those who have never heard equal to helping hurricane victims in Houston or teaching VBS for a week in the Dominican Republic?

Why are definitions important?  Because less than $.01 out of every $1.00 given to Christian ministries goes to the work of reaching most unreached 2 billion people with the Gospel.  If everybody is a missionary, fewer people feel the need to serve as an alien cross-culturally to those who have never heard His Name.  If everybody is a missionary, then missions is just about whatever people want it to be.


Saturday, January 13, 2018

Is Everything Missions?

I recently finished reading When Everything is Missions.  After reading it I created a survey just to ask people what they thought about as it relates to missions, missionaries and mission work?  Is every Christian a missionary.  Is youth camps for troubled kids missions?  In the book two comments stand out.  Fist, "Definitions matter."  Second, "Poor missions thinking results in poor missions practice."

Take this anonymous survey by clicking HERE. I will share the results and my thoughts later.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Visiting the Aka Pygmies

In the mid-90’s I was VP of International Training with United World Mission.  Missionary Paul Ohlin invited me to visit he and his wife, Dianne, and observe their work among the Aka pygmies.  The Aka live in a rain forest deep in the jungles of northern Republic of Congo. 

The Ohlin’s lived in a city called Impfondo, several miles from the capital city Brazzaville.  There is only one flight a day to Impfondo but it’s an important flight as it carries the daily mail.  Paul and Dianne lived just outside of town, a compound that has been in existence since the 1950’s used by early pioneer missionaries working in that remote region of the country.  Former missionaries concentrated their work among the Bantu people but Paul early on felt the leading to work among the Aka.

On the morning of our journey we loaded Paul’s fourteen-foot motorboat with supplies that included his motorcycle.  We traveled six hours up the Ubangi River, a twisting passage snaking its way up to where the Aka live.  Along the way we saw a large riverboat going down river on its way to Brazzaville.  The journey on this boat takes over three weeks and at every village where they stop they buy goods to resell in the capital, including “bush meat” (deer, ground-hogs, monkey and whatever else they can kill in the jungle).

Arriving at a small village several hours later, we then traveled another two hours by motorcycle deeper into the interior.  It’s amazing what two people can carry on a bike.  Paul, in the front, had a backpack and frontpack, I had a backpack holding a jerrycan of petrol while trying to balance myself behind on the back.  Obviously we had to stop a few times to rest and readjust our carry-on.  That night we slept in a mud hut on the floor.  Though the ground was hard, after traveling all day we did get some rest

We began our trek into the jungle mid morning.  Paul purchased some additional supplies and hired some local fisherman with a dugout canoe to take us to the edge of the jungle.    The day long trek in the jungle consisted first of following the river outlets into the marsh.  Once in the marsh the fisherman used long poles to push the canoe toward land.  When the water became too shallow to move the canoe with poles we rolled up our pant legs and trudged, sometimes waist deep in water, toward the bank.

One hears about a jungle, maybe read and see pictures in National Geographic, but one has to truly experience the jungle to fully appreciate its magnitude.  The tall trees and under growth was so dense that if, somehow, a person got off the narrow path even twenty feet it’s a good chance they would never find their way out again.  With our guides, who carried most of our camping gear, we walked the narrow path for nearly three hours.  Throughout the trek it rained, sometimes it was a downpour, thus the term "rain forest."

 Arriving at a clearing was the Aka village of perhaps no more than one hundred people.  The houses were made of  sticks and brush and so small that I had to almost get on my hands and knees to go in and out their huts.  The Aka’s themselves were no taller than five feet, the men wearing trousers or shorts, the women wore grass skirts, no upper covering.  Paul and I slept in, what can only be described, as utility building where people meet and talk when they are not in their houses.  It was open structure, sticks with a grass roof.  Our beds were really just elaborate benches of sticks.

Next post:  Monkey meat for supper, the Aka hunter/gathers and saving Paul’s life.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Make Disciples

In 1977 we began our ministry in a little outpost town in western Kenya called Makutano, which in Swahili means intersection or meeting place.  It was a town that had no electricity or running water.  The tribal people of Pokot would come to Makutano to sell their chickens, goats or vegetables for cash. 

Makutano is about 106 kilometers from where we lived and the roads were bad so it took us usually three hours or more to get there.  We would leave our house on Sunday mornings about 7 a.m. and not get back home until late Sunday evening.

Our first services were held in a mud schoolhouse.  My Swahili wasn’t very good, I wrote and read out my sermons the first several months of our work.  One of the earlier attendees told me, “Your Swahili is so bad no one is going to keep coming to these meetings.  You need a translator.”  My reply was that I will never use an interpreter and my Swahili would get better.  It did, though I must admit it is just good “upcountry” Swahili.

Our Lord’s great command to His church was, “Go into all the world, and make disciples” Matthew 28:19.  Because of the distance between our home and W. Pokot I spent three days in nights in a mud hut teaching our first converts.  Having only a kerosene lantern, cook stove and sleeping on the ground in the hut with chickens, that’s how we implemented Matthew 28:19. 

The picture below is the men who completed our training course a couple of years later.  Left to right, Paul Gichuki who was the first pastor of the Makutano church, and 40 years later is still the pastor.  Fred Mugoya pastored a small church in W. Poktot for a while and today is pastoring in Uganda.  Markio Lumria was our first pastor in Turkana.  Mark is in heaven now, but his ministry in Kalemenyang lives on.  David Gagula, also from Uganda and cousin to Mugoya, pastored as well in Kenya for many years and now leads a fellowship of pastors in Uganda and Bible school.

They tell me that there are now over 300 churches established in Kenya, Uganda and Sudan out of this initial effort of disciple making.  To God be the glory.  Make disciples.