Thursday, December 29, 2005

60 New Years

This will be my 60th New Year celebration. I obviously don’t remember my first one, as I was only two months old. That first New Year Harry Truman had just become the 33rd U.S. President after the death of FDR; I was living in California. My earliest memories of New Year’s Day is watching the Rose Parade on our black and white television and then spending the whole day glued to the tube watching college football. Those were the days when there was only the Orange, Sugar, Cotton and Rose Bowl’s, spaced out to end that afternoon on the west coast as there were no night games in the mid-1950’s. For an eight-year-old boy, it was about the best day of the year.

When we moved to Arkansas our standard of living dropped dramatically and one New Year’s Day was spent helping my dad on a construction job. I thought it was criminal to be working instead of sitting in front of the one-eyed monster eating Fritos and bean dip.

I preached my first sermon on New Year’s Eve, 1967 at what they called a “watch night” service. A tradition in our little Baptist church where we would gather at 8 p.m. to sing, eat and pray the New Year in. It was also a good time to let lay preachers and seminarians speak. I was a first year student in a Bible college and so they let me give it a try (after all, they had four hours to kill). I preached the whole book of Revelation in under thirty minutes.

New Year’s Day in Kenya was a bit dull. The kids were home from boarding school and Sandy usually made biscuit’s and chocolate gravy. No place to go in the small town we lived in. I’d listen to football games January 2nd on Armed Forces Radio.

Ten years ago I was in London with my friend Woody Phillips. He was living in Hungary at the time and we met there to look at a piece of property that the organization wanted to buy for a training school. The property was worthless but the time was well spent as I made a dear friend on that trip. We walked through Piccadilly Circus, found a quaint restaurant and watched fireworks. Woody and I had a lot in common and I valued his friendship. Wonder what we would have talked about if we knew he would be dead six years later?

This New Year’s day I will be in Seoul speaking at the Bul Kwang Dong Bible Baptist Church in Seoul, which has been a supporter for over twenty years. It will be cold and I don’t have winter clothes. Though a bit anxious, I count it a privilege to be asked to be the main speaker for their conference. I won’t be going through the events of Armageddon in a half an hour, but I will be just as excited to talk about my Savior as I was thirty-eight years ago.

A New Year. New opportunities. I wonder where I’ll be six years from now? If I live to see my 70th New Year’s, I wonder what the world will be like? The years really don’t matter, but each day that God gives me. I’m blessed. Happy New Year.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Merry Christmas

T’is the night before Christmas and all through our Delhi flat,
It’s so dang cold here, not a creature is stirring, not even a rat.

I look out the window, as the fog settles in,
And wonder if Jesus will be remembered in this world of sadness and sin?

With all the other gods the people do pray,
Will anyone remember why even celebrate this day?

I think of my kids, as they gather around their tree,
And pray for God blessing on them as they worship our Savior without Sandy and me.

We celebrate His birth with fellow believers tonight,
But I am reminded that our colleagues around the world are facing our same plight.

Grateful to God for His marvelous Grace,
It will be a wonderful Christmas without seeing jolly St. Nick’s face.

A poet I’m not, you no doubt agree by this time,
But it’s the thought that counts, not the uneven rhyme.

I just wanted to send out a greeting to all those we love,
And remember again our wonderful Lord and King above.

Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Why Jimmy Quits

Years ago growing up in Los Angeles we use to play sandlot football. I stood in line, along with other kids, hoping to be picked to be on a good team. I liked being on the same team with Johnny Odom, a fat Japanese fifth grade kid, as he was almost unmovable. He was slow and clumsy, but if we needed short down yardage we would always give the ball to fat Johnny who, with his shiny blue and gold LA Rams helmet (the envy of us all), would squash the opposing team with ease.

Denny Dietrich was also a good guy to have on our side as he was wiry and strong. I liked playing against Chucky Green as he was as light as a feather and I could toss him around with ease. Jimmy Farmer was a bit of a whiner and usually got hurt every game we played. Jimmy was always the last kid to be picked. No one really liked him, but when you have to have enough kids to play a game you take whoever shows up.

On my walk this morning I thought about Jimmy as it relates to overseas teams. I have noticed that usually in every team situation there is a guy or a family that the rest of the team doesn’t really like. Maybe they are whiny or they have an irritating personality. Or, perhaps, they just don’t have that indefinable chemistry which determines if they will be insiders or outsiders within the group. Whatever the reason, there seems to be a Jimmy Farmer in every group.

Like Jimmy, this odd guy (or couple) volunteers for an assignment and the organization usually picks them, with reservation. Jimmy goes to the field and the team leader doesn’t like him and never really gives him the attention he gives to others on the team. Attitude always shows up, and even Jimmy knows he was picked out of necessity, not because they want him around. Before long, either by Jimmy or the organization, a decision is made to release him from the team. Jimmy goes home and everyone points fingers on whose fault it was that he didn’t make it. Sadly, someone usually blames God saying it was His will or they missed understanding His will. It’s common in Christian circles that when things don’t go according to plan we can always cover our mistakes by attributing the failure to a higher power.

So who is at fault for Jimmy’s failure? Certainly Jimmy bears a lot of the responsibility. If he is not gifted to play ball (or be on the field) he shouldn’t try. He should look for another game. If he insists on playing the game then he needs to work on not being such an irritant and work on his interpersonal skills.

The team and team owner also shares in Jimmy’s failure. If you don’t like the guy, don’t pick him to play on the team. If the team is going to accept him, then treat him like a full fledge member, don’t make his life so miserable that you force him to quit. In fact, given his difficult personality, the team will need to go the extra mile to make sure he does succeed. Anyone can coach a talented team. The coach of the year is the one who can take a less than talented group to the playoffs. It’s disingenuous to take the credit when things are going well, but blame Jimmy when the wheels fall off.

I wonder where Jimmy is now? I know he never played in the NFL, but bet the guy ended up doing all right playing another game. I’ve seen a lot of Jimmy’s leave the game overseas and though there are a myriad of reasons why they didn’t make it I’m certain it wasn’t God’s fault.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Daily Reminder

It’s 7 a.m. when I step outside for my daily walk. My rounds are always interesting, but even more so this time of the year. I live in a city of 12 million people and in the midst of the masses we live in a colony. Not really a suburb, nor a separate township, but a thirty square mile area of privately owned three story apartments. On my walk I pass the Hindu and Sikh temples, a few Hindu shrines and a park. The streets are not yet congested, but there are a few buses picking up school kids, auto rickshaws loaded with vegetables head for the market and cows eating from garbage bens. There are a few old people like me, getting their early morning exercise and servants walking the dogs of their owners. The street sweepers are out, usually women with straw brooms stirring dust as they rake up yesterday’s trash, which is considerable as everyone throws their trash on the ground

There is a film over the city this time of the year and the fog is thick. Plane and train travel is delayed because of the haze that has descended and between the pollution, dust and smoke from the fires of the homeless who try to stay warm through the night, if the sun shines at all it won’t break through the smog until noon.

Though I like living here, there is nothing aesthetically appealing to this place. My morning walks does not lend to spiritual inspiration, except for the reminder of God’s grace. Each morning I am reminded of man’s fallen condition and what an ugly place we have made of His creation.

I am reminded how blessed I am to have spent the night in warm bed instead of the cold concrete in a plastic tent next to the open sewer that I see every morning on my walk.

I’m reminded how shallow so many of us are in the West who measure life by the house we have or the one we would like to have and how that our service to Him are the leftovers. We would like to do more, but we just can’t afford it right now.

And, I’m reminded that, even though I am grateful for what I do have, whether it’s a modest flat or a mansion, in God’s eyes, it’s still a dump.

I long for that morning walk my Creator intended for me. A place where there is no fog and a river that is not polluted.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Leadership Test

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Tending Sheep

In the late ‘70’s California Governor Jerry Brown, and his then girlfriend Linda Ronstandt, visited some tribal’s in northern Kenya. He observed the Samburu herders in the desert who, from sunup to sundown, just follow their grazing herds.

“Is that all they do everyday,” he asked in astonishment?

Well, yes, that’s all they do. Illiterate bushman have no book to read or cassette’s to listen to and their only activity is guarding their herds and leading them to grass and water.

This week I am tending sheep. That’s code for doing the mundane things of my work; preparing a paper I have been asked to submit to group of academic’s next month, putting in order messages for a conference in Korea in a couple of weeks, doing financial book work and reading. These projects are tedious for me. I was raised with a mindset that emphasized action and so if I’m not moving I’m not working. These days I don’t feel engaged, like I’m not doing anything significant.

On my daily early morning walk I was thinking about the life of shepherds. It’s indeed a monotonous life, looking at the same goats every day, herding the same cattle, looking at the same terrain. Their days are punctuated with excitement in throwing rocks at birds, practicing their skills with the bow and arrow and catching up with the latest gossip from fellow herders. On a really big day they may have to chase away a jackal or carry a newborn kid back to the kraal.

Such was the life of a guy named Abraham, Moses and David. Though the Scriptures highlight their rise to prominence, great faith and lasting reputation for all succeeding generations, prior to fame, they were just herders of sheep. The shepherds, 2,000 years ago, were just watching the flocks at night. No kraal for them, just open field, when the angelic host of heaven announced that the Messiah had been born in a barn in Bethlehem. Talking about breaking monotony!

Most of life is sheep tending. It may be a housewife taking care of the kids, a grad-student preparing for an exam, a carpenter doing a remodeling job. Much of life is mundane and sometimes tedious. But it’s in the droning of life that God does His best work. Not all shepherds end up leading His people out of Egypt. Not all caretakers of sheep kill lions and bears and grow up to sit on a throne. There were a lot of shepherds tending their flocks that night, the angels only appeared to few.

What will be the headline of my next newsletter to our supporters? “The Lion Didn’t Eat Me--Successfully Tended Sheep,” might work…but then they have to read this blog to understand it.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Time/Event and Christmas

The discussion on whether U.S. churches should have services on Christmas Day is interesting. I am torn between those who are unyielding to the world (secular, non-Christian) and maintain that they will have services; versus those who say they will yield to the reality of the day we live in and find Christmas alternatives. My Christian worldview tells me one thing, my missiology tells me something else. When you spend everyday trying to make the Gospel relevant in the context in which you live, I am uneasy about saying, “Forget about culture reality, the message is more important than the context,” because without context the message is irrelevant. However, I am equally uncomfortable with saying, “Ignore the ritualism of one day, as the message of Christ is more than once a year and must be lived daily,” because ritualism is a message that can transcend context. Both are right, both are wrong.

The reality is that both sides have a good argument. You can make a strong Christian witness statement by holding church services on Christmas Day. A faithful few will show up, partly because of their desire to be in the Lord’s house on that special day; partly so they can self-righteously feel superior to those who don’t show up. Those who will not have Christmas services will do so because they feel it is only an issue if we make it so, will have celebrated Christmas with the church members before the 25th in many other forms, and partly because they, too, don’t want to be inconvenienced by splitting up their day between family and a religious gathering.

Of course, in many parts of the world, the matter on whether to meet is simply not up for debate. For most Christians in developing countries, or where followers of Jesus are in the minority, there is only one place a Christian will be on Christmas day, whether it falls on a Sunday or a Thursday, and that’s in church.

One reason Christmas is viewed differently is cultural perception of time and event. In the West, Christmas is time activity. To take out time to get the kids dressed, drive to church, have a one-hour service, breaks up the time day. When will we open presents? Will we make it over to Grandma’s house for dinner? Christmas is a time dilemma; it’s an inconvenient time for a church service.

For event-oriented cultures, Christmas is not confined to a segment of the day but is an all day happening. When you are a minority group it’s an event to be noticed, even if that means further persecution. It would be unthinkable NOT to go to church on the special event celebrating Christ’s birth.

So what’s the answer, to have church services or not to have church services this December 25th? There is no universal answer. It’s a matter of personal preference, conviction and culture. I know what I will be doing on that day, but I wouldn’t assume to dictate my preference onto others. It’s negotiable…not an issue I will die for, nor break fellowship with others who hold a different view.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Brick and Mortar

As I toured the campus I was impressed with the complex. This national institution has been around for many years and has significant funding. As I spoke to the chapel of 1,000 students it is clear that the vision of the founder is unquestioned and I have nothing but admiration for this brother who has made a significant contribution for the Kingdom. On closer inspection of the premises it was apparent that perhaps the vision is maybe a bit of overkill as many of the massive structures are underused. But, this brother keeps building because people from the West are enamored with construction and continue to fund an already impressive ministry.

There’s something uniquely human about the need to build edifices. From the days of the Tower of Babel, Pharaoh’s pyramids to Saddam’s many presidential palaces, we seem to have a lust for building monuments to ourselves. The Church has always had a love affair with brick and mortar as it something people can see and touch. One of the motivations for buildings, as Gluckman wrote about 40 years ago (Politics, law and ritual in tribal society) is because of status… “Particular kinds of property are valued in terms of their roles in status relations.” Whether it is the car we drive, the house we live in or the church we attend, our worth is derived from property status.

There is, of course, nothing inherently wrong with property as long as it is balanced. There is, however, something unseemly about conspicuous production. In some cases production is about power and the desire to move upward in community status. Envy is another motivation for property. Dominated by the “market,” people around the world labor to lift their status and keep up with the Jones’s or the Jain’s. Sometimes the Church also tears down barns to build bigger barns motivated by envy and to maintain a presence of status, either in their communities or among their peers.

A pastor friend of mine was in the process of a one million dollar capital campaign but confided in me, “I’m uneasy about this project. We need some more classroom space, but our church really isn’t growing and I wonder if it is really wise to go into this kind of a debt just to have a new facility?” He eventually compromised and built for the congregation’s need, not its wants.

The fine balance between use-value of property and symbol-value is an interesting study. Since the erection of monuments has been around since time began it’s not something that is going pass away, until, of course, time itself passes.

Monday, December 05, 2005

This Fleeting Life

A few weeks back I mentioned on a group e-list that I was reading a biography on the life of Bishop J. Waskom Pickett. A pastor wrote me asking where he could find a copy saying, “When I was a young man in ministry I worked in a retirement home and met the Pickett’s. I didn’t know much about them, except they lived in India. They were always very kind to me.”

Admittedly, I, too, had no prior knowledge of Bishop Pickett, but having read his life story I am struck by how fleeting life is and the contribution on this earth, though significant, is quickly forgotten. Pickett, who arrived in India before WWI, was a contemporary of E. Stanley Jones, was the inspiration of Donald McGavran’s work on church growth movements, was a personal friend of Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister. Though Waskom did not agree with Mahatma Gandhi, he had intense discussions with the Father of India and met him, at the request of Nehru, two days before his assassination to warn him of the dangers on his life. Bishop Pickett raised millions of dollars for schools, the building of churches and food aid for those starving on the sub-continent in the early ‘50’s. He met several times with President Truman and Eisenhower as a good will ambassador for India.

In today’s market Christianity, where present worth is determined by the size of one’s contribution as a pastor, missionary or layperson in the church, accomplishing great things so that we might receive great credit, often sidetracks us. In his time, Pickett received his just reward, but in the end he and his wife, Ruth, were just nice old people living in an Ohio retirement home.

I am sure the pastor who wrote me now wishes he had appreciated that elderly couple that was nice to him. An opportunity to sit and learn from living history lost forever. Well, not forever, for we will have eternity to listen to their stories and countless thousands more that faithfully served our Lord.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

More Than Religion

In a recent newspaper article it stated that India was one of the most religious countries in the world. 86% of the population, according to the report, has a religious belief. This is only second to the Philippines, which claimed to be 91% religious.

The issue of being religious or, the new term, being spiritual, is of course not the point. One can be a devout Christian and still commit the atrocities of ethnic cleansing in Rwanda; a pious Hindu and burn the trains that Muslims ride in; a passionate follower of the Koran and gas Kurds (who are also Muslims). The issue is not religion, but the object of one’s faith. For those who follow Christ, it is never about the institution of religion but what it means to be a follower of Christ. Our emphasis is having a personal and intimate relationship with a personal and living God. Our desire is that people would see the Christ of Christianity, not the religious structure that does not always represent who He is.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Morning Train

On my recent trip up north into Bihar, we visited several different villages. A couple of times we had to get up at 4:00 a.m. to catch the train to the next venue.

Though still in what would be considered Fall, this time of the year the temperatures are quite cool at night. As we were getting ready for our train to arrive I took this picture of those who spent the night on the railway platform. Last year I got stuck in Lucknow with no place to sleep so I, too, had to find a clean place to lie down through the night. It was one of the coldest and most uncomfortable nights I have ever experienced. Sleeping on cold concrete at the railway station ranks right up there with the night I slept in a sleeping bag over a pigpen in the mountains of southwest China. Such is the life of a cross-cultural worker.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Can You Hear Me Now?

Standing in the middle of a busy street, some guy asked, “Why are you taking a picture of a telephone pole?”

“Foreigners. They do the strangest things,” he probably was thinking as he walked away.

Later I told my friend that the telephone pole is a visual metaphor of the problem with communication. Whether it’s between person-to-person or person-to-God, the wires on that pole in Bihar symbolize the problem with maintaining a good relationship. If I look close enough perhaps I can make out a bird’s nest, or is that just a rusted light cover? Where do the electric line and the phone line cross? Gee, not only is there a problem with voice transmission, it’s shorting out the power!

My life is filled with my wires twisted, crossed, cluttered. No wonder I can’t hear the voice of God, the wire is either cut or choked by the other junk that is cutting me off from the main line. I wonder sometimes if God isn’t trying to make connection but on the other end no one is picking up. “I think I hear you, Lord. Can you speak a little louder?”

“Fix the line, Richard…Can you hear me now?”

Monday, November 21, 2005

Village Life

This past week I had the opportunity to travel into another state in northeastern India. I always enjoy getting out of the city as it gives me a different perspective that is so different from the middle-class environment I live in most of the time.

It’s harvest time in this part of the country near the Nepal border. From early morning men, women and children work in the fields until late at night. With my zoom lens I was able to photograph one woman walking home after a long day in the field. There is something remarkably peaceful about village life. They know little about world events, as their main concern is eking out a living, having enough money to educate their children, to have enough food for another year. What they lack in material goods they compensate by having a strong community support group. My mind went back to those years I spent in Kenya. Like Africans, every place we visited drinking chai was compulsory. They villagers may not have much, but they more than make up by being kind and generous hosts.

Monday, November 14, 2005

The God of Culture

This past week I have been reading research papers. In my class on cultural anthropology the students are required to choose a people group, do a detailed library research on that people group and come up with a hypothesis on how they might present the Good News to them in a culturally relevant way. Some of the people groups include the migrants moving into New Delhi (why they move to urban areas and the challenges they face when they arrive); Muslims who live on the coast; prostitutes (who are now given the politically correct title as commercial sex trade traffickers) and the disabled. It’s been interesting reading as I learn more about the culture of the varied people in the country.

My role, as a teacher and consultant, is to create a thirst for others to learn and love mosaic of people that God has created. I never tire of learning why people do what they do and how they organize their life. All mankind manipulate their social environment so they can cope with this thing called life. Some cultures have very strong family bonds and their ethnicity or their caste provides them the security they long for in a hostile and cruel world we live in. Others are motivated by pure economics, either to just get by or to collect as much stuff as they possibly can get. Many, most, find religion as the foundation of their being, though some religions operate from the fear of the gods they serve or the unidentified forces they believe control their world. What strikes me as I study culture is how similar we all are, yet so diverse.

It may be true that all roads lead toward heaven, but not all roads actually lead to God. There is a way that seems right to man, the Scriptures tells us, but in the end it leads to death. The key, for all man, is to find the way that is right by Him. That way, God’s way, is hard to find when we are prisoners in our own culture. I pray that my students will learn to love the culture that God has created and in it present the Way that leads to a God who is not be feared but to be loved, for He first loved us.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Social Time

Last week my twin brother had a birthday.

I hate it when old people ask, “How old do you think I am?” It’s a trick to make you make them feel better by saying they look like they’re in they're ‘60’s when reallly they’re in their ‘80’s. Now I’m doing it, and it’s depressing.

People of different nationalities have a hard time guessing the age of other people of different ethnicities. I always had a hard time guessing the age of the Kenyan’s I worked. with and they never could guess my age (all us white folk look the same, you know). A couple of weeks ago I was teaching a class in India and they asked me how old I was? I did the senior citizen thing, “How old do you think I am?”

I went to the white board and gave them a range of options: 45-50; 50-55; 55-60; 60-65; 65-70; 70-75. Most of them put me in the 65-70 category, some put me in the above 70-age group? Sigh, no one put me in the under 50-age range.

In some ways the students gave me a compliment. While the West places high value on youth, in many other cultures older people are perceived as having legitimacy. Social time means that you have something to say because you’ve been nicked in life and are still standing. Really old people are revered, as they are seemingly closer to God (more truth to that than they intend, I think).

One of my favorite authors passed away yesterday. At the age of 95, Peter Drucker was still sought after for his youthful and innovative thinking without the foolishness of youth. Age, as the old saying goes, is often more a state of mind. If I can grow old with a mind that is focused on the future and not the past, it really doesn’t matter how many years I rack up.

Happy birthday, Bill. How old are you?

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Words Of Affirmation

As I sat listening to the, not hardly five foot girl speak in Sunday morning chapel, she spoke emotionally about her father. Konya’s father, a nominal Christian living in the northeast of India, loves his daughter and had great aspirations for her life. Konya is bright and outgoing and her dad wished that one day she would enter politics. To that end she was moving, until she accepted Christ at a youth meeting. Her life was transformed. Leaving the ambitions of a career in the secular world, Konya took a job working for a Christian organization, much to her parent’s disappointment. After a few years her fellow workers, no doubt seeing her potential, encouraged her to pursue further studies. She is now in her second year pursuing her MA in missions.

Konya broke down as she talked about how that all her other friends at home had good jobs and was getting on with life. Then, fighting back the tears with lips quivering she said, “But I am still dependent on my parents.”

The bond between a father and daughter is unique. I know, as I have two precious grown daughters of my own. As Konya spoke I thought of how, because of her close relationship with her father she cares what he thinks. Her motivation in life is to serve Christ regardless of the price, but in the deep recesses of her heart she is motivated to please her earthly father as well. No greater affirmation can a child receive in life than a word of “I’m proud of you,” from your father or mother. That’s true if the child is three or fifty-three.

But the words of affirmation only have meaning if the relationship is grounded in affection. If throughout the child’s life they have been criticized and made to feel of little worth, even a “good job,” rings hollow. A son or daughter from a negative home atmosphere is likely to say, “I could care less what my parent’s think.” If the motivation is to gain acceptance from an abusive parent, will it ever be satisfying? Probably not.

Konya’s testimony reminded me, first, to remember to be mindful of my children and grandchildren. They don’t need my affirmation, but may they always know that I am proud of them no matter how God leads them in life. Second, and most importantly, I am reminded that my Father loves me, is proud of me, and I long to hear Him say, “Well done.”

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Dilbert Principle

“Don’t do as I do,” the old saying goes, “do as I say.”

In my classes, equipping for cross-cultural ministries, I state that if a family is unable to do ministry overseas they will do one of two things: (1) quit and go back home or, (2) be involved in irrelevant busy work on the field. People that fall into the second category are not those who cannot adjust to the culture but are people who, for one reason or another, can’t seem to find their niche in ministry. Perhaps they are not gifted in teaching, facilitating, or some technical skill that is required. Since they made a commitment for cross-cultural work, left their jobs, raised their support and now are on the field, it would be a shame for them to return back to the states. So what do we do with these people? We make them managers!

I have been observing this phenomenon managerial ministry among different organizations for sometime now, and believe me, they are not confined to a few. I’m not sure what drives this need to generate jobs for people on the field, but it’s now common practice to create a hierarchy of roles and give everyone a title so they can justify their existence as well as their considerable budget. Some organizations have created titles such as regional leaders, team leaders, strategic leaders and short-term coordinators. With all these managers one wonders who they are managing and who’s left to do the work? I know of one group that has only three families on their particular field and, since they can’t work together, they have all been made managers…and they go to area meetings to learn how to manage more effectively.

L. Peter first introduced the Peter Principle in a humoristic book (of the same title) describing the pitfalls of bureaucratic organization. The original principle states that in a hierarchically structured administration, people tend to be promoted up to their "level of incompetence".

The Dilbert Principle, the syndicated cartoon character, has overtaken the Peter Principle. Now, apparently, the incompetent workers are promoted directly to management without ever passing through the temporary competence stage.

Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, states, “When I entered the workforce in 1979, the Peter Principle described management pretty well. Now I think we'd all like to return to those Golden Years when you had a boss who was once good at something. I get all-nostalgic when I think about it. Back then, we all had hopes of being promoted beyond our levels of competence. Every worker had a shot at someday personally navigating the company into the tar pits while reaping large bonuses and stock options. It was a time when inflation meant everybody got an annual raise; a time when we freely admitted that the customer didn't matter. It was a time of joy.”

“We didn't appreciate it then” Adams continues, “but the Peter Principle always provided us with a boss who understood what we did for a living. Granted, he made consistently bad decisions -- after all, he had no management skills. But at least they were the informed decisions of a seasoned veteran from the trenches.”

While there is a role for managers in missions, perhaps we should begin with those who can say, as did the Apostle Paul, “Follow my example. Do as I do, not just as I say.”

Thursday, October 20, 2005


I am slowly changing my mind about the validity of the dowry system.

I understand the function of bride price, where the father of the daughter is compensated for loss labor when he gives her off to be married. It’s not really a crass system, as many in the West would see it. Having observed the bride price system among the Pokot or Kenya, I never looked at it as a “selling off” the girls. There are always abuse of any system, and it’s true that some fathers misuse the bride price practice to gain economic advantage . Bride price disputes can go on for generations if girl is barren, lazy or just a troublemaker and the groom’s family feels they have been cheated. Marriage and family disputes are messy affairs no matter the culture or custom. The West touts “fairness” laws to protect the woman in cases of divorce, but that doesn’t mean our system is without flaws. Obviously, in a culture that has a nearly fifty percent divorce rate one could hardly say our practice is morally superior.

The custom of dowry, where the family of the daughter pays a negotiated price to the groom’s family, seems, on the surface to be reasonable. The groom’s family is, after all, taking on the responsibility of the girl and therefore to support the extended family, dowry is, in theory, a helping hand for the well-being of the new couple. Since the extended family financial structure is one of pooled resources, what is given to one is shared by all. Again, that’s the theory. I suspect that in most cases it functions well.

Almost every week, if not everyday, in some newspaper throughout the nation there are stories of brides being beaten, harassed or killed by the groom’s family. In today’s paper there is a story about a young woman who killed herself with a suicide note stating that she was no longer able to cope with her mother-in-law and sister-in-law’s constant abuse and demands that she go back to her father and demand more dowry money.

Because all cultural systems are, as my friend Sherwood Lingenfelter says, prison’s of disobedience, whether the bonds of marriage is through dowry or bride price negotiation or through unreliable romantic love, the only way it will have a chance of survival is through the transformation of the heart. That transformation comes when both husband and wife know true love through Christ. When that transformation takes place, any arrangement of marriage will do.

Saturday, October 15, 2005


You have to hand it to God; He really knows how to mix things up? That's especially true for me this week. I’m on an Indian campus, teaching students from the south in Kerela to the northeast in Assam, with a strong contingent from Myanmar (Burma). Visiting faculty include an old couple from England, one from the Netherlands, New Zealand and Australia. I’m the only American in sight.

It’s not bad. You have to put up with an occasional swipe at our President and his motives for going into Iraq. I just shrug my shoulders and remind them that he was re-elected, along with our strongest allies, Prime Minister Howard (of Australia) and Tony Blair of the U.K. I don’t remind them that those who opposed the war, Germany’s Schroeder was voted out and France’s Chirac is on his way out. I resist telling them that I can’t seriously discuss issues with those whose main source of information is the BBC or CNN. The problem with internationals is they miss the point of what really goes on inside another persons country therefore their arguments are merely repeats from last nights newscast.

Apart from politics, the atmosphere is quite amiable. It’s interesting to listen others talk about the new Bishop in Sydney and the dreadful weather in Bristol. I can appreciate their banter about cricket and how they do wish there was more time for bird watching. Of course the only thing my students want to talk to me about is their research assignment and how difficult will the final exam be? It’s tough being the only “Yank” on the block.

My diversion is my computer and the Internet. I search desperately to see if I have mail from my family or friends, read my daughter’s latest blog and check yesterday’s baseball scores. Thankfully I can go to FoxNews and watch the latest news video’s and learn that the rains in the northeast continue, people are gearing up for the new season of AMERICAN IDOL and that LOST has captured the imagination of the masses. Hardly things that would make me want to sing the national anthem, but news about home is interesting, even if it’s undemanding.

It’s a long weekend, and I have two more weeks to go. A good biography entitled, THE ROAD TO DELHI – BISHOP PICKETT REMEMBERED 1890 – 1981, keeps me entertained. The Dean of Academics gave me the recent movies on DVD to watch on my laptop. It’s called ‘escapism,’ and it’s what you do when you are the only one of your kind surrounded by multicultural's.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005


“How did you discover YOUR gift,” the student asked me in class today?

In my lecture I made the comment that in finding their niche in ministry they need to match their calling with their giftedness. My standard speech is, “If God has given you the gift of administration, don’t try to be an evangelist. If He has given you the gift of a teacher that doesn’t make you qualified to be a pastor. People get frustrated in their service for Christ because they are trying to do things they are not gifted to do.”

I’m not sure when I knew my niche was in teaching? I suppose it was when I was pastoring my first church in Texas. The most enjoyable facets of being a pastor was when I teaching. That love for teaching carried on through my time in Kenya, discipling others informally, which eventually led me to establish a Bible institute.

In the process of learning ones gift, you invariably learn the areas where you are NOT gifted. It was at that time I realized my gift was not in being a pastor and I wasn’t a very good preacher. I have also learned over the years that I’m weak in administration. It’s as important to know what you are not good at as to know what you are gifted in doing.

Having a desire to serve doesn’t override giftedness. I’d love to be able to sing, but those who have heard me sing, and that is a very few people, know my inability to carry a tune in a sack overrules my aspirations. One may desire to be a missionary, but that doesn’t mean they are gifted to live overseas. I’m not sure that I buy into the well-worn phrase that “What God is looking for is not ability but availability.” I’m available to belt out a song, but no one is inviting me to sing in the choir. Giftedness MUST be coupled with calling.

Finding your giftedness is a process. Some learn their role in life early. For others, probably for most of us, the discovery of what we are really good at is through a period of trial and error. If you don’t try to teach you’ll never know if you are any good at it. If you don’t try to live overseas you will never know if you are cut out to do it. The problem comes when you discover your don’t have those gifts, will you acknowledge it and find something you are good at? Life is too short to continue to try to make your square gift fit into an occupational round hole.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Best Practices in Funding?

The question of how to finance missions is always challenging. In almost every congregation I visit the pastor expresses concern about the future of their local church involvement. For the most part, mission giving is provided by those who are fifty years of age and older. Those who are below fifty may be involved in mission giving but less are inclined to give to the church program and instead give to projects they are interested in ranging from everything from Tsunami relief to orphanages to their friends going on short-term trips. Those below thirty usually give to projects they will directly be a part of in exploratory overseas trips. So how will missions be funded in the future?

– Started in the 1950’s, faith promise was a program that suggested that people, by faith, promised God that they would give a certain amount of money each month, above their regular tithes and offerings, to missions. Collectively, the church would take up the faith promise pledge each year to determine their mission budget. It was a good system for the first thirty years. Partly because of the social structure of the church between 1955 and 1975, church members believed in and participated in top down organizational giving. Those who were a part of faith promise in those years are now over fifty years old and many are in their seventies and eighties.

Vietnam, the peace movement, Nixon’s resignation was a sociological sea change in America as people began to question authority and institutional structures. As a result of that societal shift, people began to see the church for what it provided to them personally and giving to the corporate structure began to wane.

Another reason faith promise giving has diminished is because the church did not have a solid mission strategy. What was the purpose of missions? Indeed, what was missions? Did it include youth camps in the U.S., local radio ministries, and prison ministries? I can remember in the heyday of faith promise churches hired mission intern staff and paid their salaries out of the mission budget. Missions then became the family who ran the youth or children’s ministry. Perhaps one reason faith promise is not appealing to the present generation is that missions is not well defined. Giving to a general fund is no longer attractive.

COMBINED BUDGET – Some churches, though I know of very few, have a combined budget where a percentage of all income goes to world evangelism. Theoretically this is a good program. IF people will support the church finances, automatically fifteen to twenty-five percent of all income will go to missions. Under this plan a mission’s budget can be developed and it will be sustained whether people give directly to missions or not. Theoretically, as the church grows so, too, does their worldwide outreach. This seems to be better in today’s climate as I see many churches growing, starting new ministry projects, building new facilities and as the congregation grows so does their missions program. The combined budget has two weaknesses.

First, if the church does not grow, neither does the mission outreach. Small churches, especially, struggle to make ends meet. If the local congregation is stagnant or in decline it will obviously affect how much can be allotted to mission projects.

Secondly, a combined budget does not address the need for this generation to become personally involved in missions. To tap into their needs, the church missions program will have to do more to create interest beyond the four walls of the assembly.

WHAT TO DO? - It seems that now, more than ever before, the church needs to do two things to enhance their mission’s outreach.

1. There needs to be a concentrated and intentional creation of a mission’s strategy. This will include a definition of what is missions, what the church is trying to accomplish with their mission investment and what type of ministries and people they will support to reach that goal.

2. Allow people to be involved in missions outside the local assembly. Though this is a controversial suggestion among some churches, it is a method that has been around for many years. The Navigators have for years have solicited support from family and friends. It’s a method that allows people to have a personal and vested interest in how they will support missions. But, like all methods, it has its problems, which I will discuss in a future post.

I do not believe there is an either/or solution for raising mission awareness or funding. It’s very possible that faith promise, combined budget and personal giving can be incorporated into a cohesive plan. The greater challenge is thinking about how we can do missions better.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Looking For The Right Pitch

A friend of mine gave me a CD before I left the states, Rick Warren’s kickoff service of Saddleback’s latest program, “40 Days of P.E.A.C.E.” I was unable to go to church this morning, so I listened to the CD instead.

Of course I enjoyed, not only the message, but the content as well. Rick is a gifted speaker and no one questions his success in building a strong church. I must admit, I’ve never read his runaway bestseller, The Purpose Driven Life, partly because I have an aversion to jumping on bandwagons. No doubt I would profit from the reminders that are basic and valuable for every Christian, and in time, I probably will read it.

It’s interesting how the Holy Spirit uses a message for HIS purpose. Rick was talking about using our lives to serve Christ by serving others. While that is a message I need, it was not what impressed me most. The thing that grabbed me was the positive tone of Rick’s presentation. When I say positive, I don’t mean in the sense of Schuller or Osteen, which tends to be inward focused, but a positive presentation of what God wants for our lives to fulfill His purpose.

I contrasted Rick’s message with that of another person I admire and that is John McArthur. John is a noted Bible scholar and down through the years I have listened to his expository presentations. His command of the original languages is unquestioned and as a result he brings out unique insights from the pages of Scripture.

The difference between Warren and McArthur is tone. Warren’s tone is more along the lines what is right and good whereas McArthur’s sides more with what is wrong and bad. It’s no secret that McArthur has been critical of Warren’s writing’s as he was on Larry King Live basically characterizing Warren’s writing as “pop Christianity.” He may be right, though I think it probably doesn’t do McArthur or the Kingdom much good to get on national television to make that point.

Critical analysis is one of my areas of giftedness, which has evolved over the years. Because of my age and experience, I’ve lived enough of life to discern what is real and sensible, from what is misleading and thoughtless. Obviously cross-cultural ministry is my arena of expertise and I’m pretty open with my views on the church as it relates to world evangelization. The trick is, and this is where the Spirit nicked me this morning, the fine balance between critical analysis and just being critical. Am I more like Warren or McArthur? Tone is everything. I’m praying for the right pitch.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

My Shield...My Protector

Make your own spiritual application. I like to visualize this as my Protector hovering over the enemy as I travel through life.

Friday, September 23, 2005

The Discipline of Ego

Last night we had our friends, I will call them Randy and Safia, over for supper. We have known them for fifteen years and, though we have lived on different sides of the world most of that time, we always enjoy renewing our friendship.

One of the reasons I like about being around Randy and Safia is that they are the most unpretentious people I have ever met. He holds a couple of Master’s degrees, and is well spoken. Safia is from a high caste and is well connected within the city, from the President down. Yet they are unassuming, never drop names nor, like so many in this world, try to impress with what they have or what they have accomplished.

Forty-eight hours earlier, as my aged parents took me to the airport, they asked me if I was flying business class? My twin brother, who is presently in Uzbekistan, often travels business or first class, so I guess they thought I would too. I use to get upgrades to the front part of the plane, but these days it’s strictly coach and the best I can hope for is I don’t get stuck I a middle isle. I sheepishly confessed, no, “I’m flying coach.”

In the past week I’ve been reading a series of studies dealing with the discipline of life. One area of discipline is self-esteem or the battle of ego. Some people fight esteem issues more than others, though I suspect everyone struggles with self-image. Some have an enlarged and inflated ego, others suffer from low-self esteem.

In the world of ministry I live I’ve seen many who have chased the prize of being somebody. Whether it is pastoring a large church, being known as a great singer or being a great radio/television evangelist, it’s interesting to see people who are mere disciples of the Carpenter jostle for position of prominence. National pastors are as bad, sometimes worse, than North Americans. A lover of titles, they often insist they be called “The Doctor, Bishop, Reverend Samuels.” Many of them only fly first class and would never think about taking a train.

Of course there is nothing wrong with flying business class, having a title or ambition. I often use my title as leverage and would prefer to have a strong self-esteem rather than an unhealthy self-loathing. However, I have noticed down through the years those who chase recognition are very much like those who seek fortune where the pursuit dominates their personalities and becomes their undoing. When one becomes obsessed with being known the accolades are never satisfying, their ego is never stroked to satisfaction.

Down through history it has always been the humble that have gained the most admiration. From Jesus to Paul, from William Carey to Mother Teresa, those who walked humbly were in the end most admired. I guess that’s why I enjoy being around Randy and Safia, they model a Christ-like humility

As I pass the oversized seats of business class to find my narrow little uncomfortable seat in row forty-eight, I will cast a wishful eye. However, I hope I will keep my ego in-check, maintain the attitude of humility of a Albert Schweitzer who, when asked why he rode third class on the train, answered simply, “Because there isn’t a fourth class.”

Friday, September 16, 2005

Insider Movements

The new term for the indigenous church is insider movements. Definitions are now in order.

Indigenous means something that is natural or native to a particular region. Missiologist’s have for many years promoted the idea that when planting a church, it should look and feel like the region of those who accept Christ as their Savior. Though the philosophy of the indigenous church is valid, the practical outworking of that philosophy is difficult, if not impossible, to implement. Church planters, whether they are native or foreign (missionaries), traditionally establish churches that look remarkably like every other church throughout the world. The formula for church planting is, evangelism, baptism, discipleship, secure land, build a building. Once a meeting place has been established, the new Christian community takes on a universal form in singing, church leadership and program. Denominationalism follows the same pattern, be they Evangelical, Orthodox or Catholic. The indigenous church is more theory than reality.

The primary reason the indigenous church is not present is due to institutional reluctance. Rather than allowing new converts be followers of Jesus within their context as a Hindu, Buddhist or Muslim, the institutional church insists that people be extracted from their cultural context as they embrace Christ as Lord. While it is important that people understand that Jesus is more than a prophet, guru or god, the insistence that seekers throw off the old to seize the new has become a barrier for many.

The insider movement promotes the notion that people become followers of Jesus within their context. Can a Hindu or Muslim be a follower of Christ without joining the institutional church? The debate continues with no clear answer. And, the debate is not new. The first church of Jerusalem believed that there were clear regulations the Gentile converts should follow in order to be included in the ecclesia (circumcision, following the Law). As the Gentile church grew they also created benchmarks for proper behavior of new believers (abstaining from meat offered to idols). As the institution grew, so too, did the requirements for new believers. The insider movement is only the latest threat to institutional thinking.

While that debate continues, the implications for those working within the institution are profound. What role does a church planter, native or foreign, have in fostering an insider movement? If they can’t baptize or build a building, what will they report to those who support them? If they cannot quantify their work will they have a role to play in the Great Commission? Probably not. The institutional church is uncomfortable with supporting someone taking the Gospel to those who will remain in their cultural and religious context. Secret believers will never gain legitimacy within the institutional body, therefore those who facilitate such activity face the same contempt.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Voice In The Wilderness

This weekend I wrap up my time in the states and head back to Asia. I look forward to getting back to the work I enjoy the most, i.e. training nationals in cross-cultural ministry. I have enjoyed being in the states as well, but the work here is harder for me. Speaking in churches, trying to paint the picture of our work, though important, it's challenging. Why?

Missions is not a hot button issue for most people. If they did a Gallup poll on what people want in a fulfilling church service experience I suspect it would look something like this:

Music/Worship 48%
Interacting with friends (with coffee and donut’s) 23%
Hearing a good message 22%
Getting a good parking place 6%
Learning about missions 1%

That's not sour grapes, it’s not a criticism, it's reality. While people admire missionaries and they understand missions is vital in fulfilling the Great Commission, it’s not where they live. The average American Christian is weighed down with debt, conflict and busyness. They watch the misery of Katrina victims on their televisions and the last thing they want to hear is another sad story about billion’s of people in Asia who are eternally doomed without Christ. Hand me another donut, but please don't tell me I need to be more involved in world evangelism.

Though often referred to as “heroes,” among some American pastors, in reality missionaries are perceived more like IRS agents. “I know we have to give you something, it’s the law,” they seem to say, “so we’ll give what we owe and not a cent more.” Certainly that’s not true of everyone, but, like I tell my student’s, it's not what people say, but how they live which determines worldview.

In spite of the reality of my role, I am always grateful that I can be a voice in the wilderness for the 90% of God’s creation that lives outside the continental U.S. I am grateful for that 10% of the people in any church who see missions as important as their praise songs. And to those who are preoccupied, I pray that God will use what we have said to make them more aware of the world around them. Who knows, maybe one day I will see them on the road raising support.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Generational Missions

In reading A RESILIENT LIFE by Gordon MacDonald, the middle section in the book is about asking questions of different generations. MacDonald was speaking to a convention of worship leaders, and it struck him that most of them were in their 30’s. He asked them if they really knew about the lives of the people in their churches who were younger or older than their generation? He challenged them to develop their worship program with an eye on those who did not share their worldview.

As I reflected on MacDonald’s comments, I thought about this blog. I’m in the late 50’s crowd who is thinking about how relevant I am in the world, wondering if time has passed me by? Soon I will be in the 60’s and 70’s group and will wonder if anyone will even know or care about the life I’ve lived? Have I forgotten what it was like to be in my 20’s, when I was trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew taller? Do I appreciate the struggles of those in their 30’s, who must balance family and career, while at the same time trying to serve Christ overseas? It wasn’t too long ago I was apart of the 40’s crowd, coming to terms with the choices that I’ve made in life which has defined my future and wondering if it’s too late to make a mid-course adjustment (classic definition of mid-life crisis)?

I have noted that culture is not static. What was the norm in missions five years ago has changed. In developing a strategy of mission one must be aware of those changing dynamics. So, too, is it with those who will take up the mantle of missions in the days ahead. Missions cannot, should not be done as it was in my generation. I pray to God I will remember that as I move forward and helping others to think about where He is taking us, not where we have been.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Finding Need

As I sat down in the pastor’s office, by his body language I could almost see the wall of resistance come up. We had never met before and to him I was just another American trying to pitch a program. He’d seen guys like me for years, spending a year or less in the country, hoping to find a National pastor to facilitate another grand idea from the West.

Wanting to put him at ease I said, “Let me say at the outset that I have nothing to sell, I am here to just ask questions.”

I then preceded to explain that, though I had been a pastor in the U.S., a pioneer church planter in Kenya for 14 years, a trainer of missionaries for 16 years, my purpose for asking for a visit with him was to find the answer to one question, “Is there a need for what I do in this country?”

Too many times we make assumptions. We assume that in a country of 1 billion people, where the evangelical community is less than 2% that what WE DO is valid and important. We, speaking as an American, assume that we have a role to play in every country. The gap between our assumptions and reality is one reason there are so many frustrated missionaries on the field today.

“I’m not sure why I am here,” one guy said to me recently, and a sentiment I’ve heard many times over. “I came to this country wanting to make a difference, but I can’t find my niche. I feel guilty as I am getting a ton of support to live here, but the National church doesn’t need me where I am gifted, and I’m not gifted in what they need.”

Mission sending agencies are not much help in helping people find their niche on the field. Driven by numbers of recruits for their organization, they also make assumptions that they need to send people to China, Cambodia or Croatia, and hope that when the people get to the field they will figure it out for themselves when they get there. That’s not a plan, that’s a wish.

How does one find their niche as a cross-cultural worker? I have a suggestion based on my experience…go to the field and ask the question. WHAT IS THE NEED? IS WHAT I DO FILL THAT NEED?

The North American church spends lot money each year going on short-term mission trips. Rather than using that two week, one month or even one-year trip in doing ministry, that may or may not be relevant, I suggest people spend that time investigating and asking appropriate questions? By asking the proper questions one may find that they indeed can have a role as a teacher, business manager, computer expert or counselor. It’s also possible that they will learn they do not have a role in serving the church in that country and will need to seek God’s guidance in serving in another area.

By asking the questions BEFORE going to the field, missionaries will experience job satisfaction, which is key in feeling worthwhile in ministry and, will help them know what to do on Tuesday morning.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Passion Without Purpose

“I understand the big picture, but what do I do on Tuesday?”

Though not many will verbalize it, that’s what many missionaries say each week, all over the world. They go to the field with a deep commitment for the BIG PICTURE, i.e. taking the Good News to those who have never heard and establishing churches. After they raise their support and get on the field they find themselves frustrated. They’re lost and don’t know what to do. Their daily lives are filled with just living on the field (learning a new language, trying to find their role in ministry, surviving daily in a land that will never be home). They wake up on Tuesday morning and ask “I’m not sure why I’m here?”

Why the frustration? One reason is that they really don’t have a role on the mission field. They have a passion, but it’s not matched with a clear defined purpose.

This may come as a surprise to some, but volunteer work (and that really is what a missionary is, a volunteer) depends on two things – First, a need and second, someone qualified to fill that need. In today’s mission world the need for North American missionaries is not the same as it was thirty years ago, not even five years ago.

What are the needs of countries such as Costa Rica, Sweden, Bulgaria or Cambodia? I can tell you what is not needed, North American church planters. In each of those countries there are churches and there are Christian leaders who are capable of handling the BIG PICTURE in their own land. Granted, in some nations the churches are small, they all probably have doctrinal problems and the percentage of evangelicals are in decline, but they are nevertheless the church of their own place. Being weak does not constitute a need for North American church planters.

Missiologically, bringing in a foreigner, who in most cases will need a minimum of two years to function in a different language, is a waste of human and financial resources. If the BIG PICTURE is to reach the nations, even if the country was saturated with expatriates, twenty years later the countries of the world would hardly be touched. Though this is a self-evident truth, North American churches and sending agencies continue to appoint people to go to the field and do PIONEER church planting. The well meaning missionary arrives on the field and soon realizes that he is at best redundant, at worse he is irrelevant and on Tuesday he asks the question once again, “Why am I here?”

In looking at NEED, the most effective role North American’s can play on the mission field today is that of a specialist, people who have the skills that can used in the role of a FACILITATOR.

By definition, facilitation is, “the process of making something easy or easier.” A facilitator is somebody who aids or assist in a process, especially by encouraging people to find their own solutions to problems or tasks.” What does the church in China need? An outsider to establish a congregation or someone to facilitate the church in China to reach it’s own goals in evangelizing their nation? I would argue for the latter.

FACILITATORS are people who have a specific talent to do specific tasks. They may be computer experts developing a network system for a National church or school; a research specialist to help identify the unreached cities and peoples of the country; an experienced businessman to help in create micro-business enterprises or a health care worker to help fight the battle of AIDS. Though the job description may be varied, the crucial question for the FACILITATOR is to find the area of need and then fill that need.

How to determine NEED will be discussed next time.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

It's Not Just About Money

I sat down in my pastor’s office while he was on the phone. There was a stack of missionary letters on the corner of this desk, so I thumbed through them while waiting for him to finish his conversation. I was struck by the one common theme in each letter, money.

Please pray about: Tickets back to the field, $4,500…$750 monthly support still needed…purchase of land, $30,000…$2,000 for computer and printer.” All legitimate needs. All, probably, worthy of support. What struck me was that seemingly, EVERY letter had a plea for money.

The most difficult aspect of missionary/pastor relationship is over the issue of money, and that’s tragic. Pastors, who are generally friendly and outgoing people in a non-formal setting, get weird when they see a missionary at a fellowship meeting (one reason I stopped going to them), because missionaries, if they don’t have their hand out, will have their calendar out trying to book a meeting. And, though everyone knows the reason missionaries are on the road is to seek the limited funds available for the work we have been “called” to, it’s sad that that our relationship seems to be around only dollars.

I was on the east coast last week and made an appointment with a supporting pastor. He told me that if I was ever in his part of the world to stop by and I took him up on it. This pastor is both gracious and generous, and was kind enough to provide lodging for me as well as supper. He showed me around his church and talked about his vision and which is truly impressive. I’m not sure what he was expecting, but I told him I was not there to hit him up for money, did not really talk a lot about our ministry other than my philosophy of missions. My real reason for visiting him was an unconditional thanks for his partnership.

To my missionary colleagues, I understand your struggle as raising support is the necessary evil of our profession. Though dollars are important, our greatest need on the mission field cannot be solved by additional support. I desire people who know me and really know the ministry I am involved in. I wish for people who will read my newsletters and not be afraid that the only thing they will see is monetary considerations. I long for partners to share in the ministry, not just support the ministry. Perhaps if we change our attitude of what missions is about we will find the equality of ministry that we long for.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Special Birthday

It was a Friday afternoon and Rev. Gilbert Thomas stood before the final assembly of the Vacation Bible School at the Bible Baptist Church of Gardena, California.

“Boys and girls,” pastor Thomas said, “two thousand years ago Jesus was hanging on the cross. He looked up into heaven as He was dying and said, ‘Father, I’m dying for…’” Pastor Thomas paused and looked down on the children in the church and said, “You can put y our name right there kids, for Jesus died just for you.”

When the invitation was given I stepped forward, along with my brother and my cousin. At the age of eight one wonders if a decision of that magnitude is valid. My brother is convinced that his salvation did not take place until over thirty years later. I have no idea about my cousin or the countless other kids that went forward that day, I can only speak from myself.

It was fifty years ago, August 19, 1955 that I embraced Jesus as my Lord and my Savior. I started my journey well. I remember running home and hugging my mom in the kitchen proudly declaring I was “saved.” I remember my first real Bible and how I had underlined almost every verse with dark blue ink, as every word was real and important to me. I went through a “prodigal” season and, like Peter, denied I ever knew Him. But even in my most rebellious days, I never forgot that August day. As a returning son in 1967, the reunion to my first love was nearly as wonderful as that day as an innocent eight-year old boy.

Tonight, alone with my thoughts in a motel room far away from family and friends, I reflect on that day. That summer day, fifty years ago, seems like another lifetime, yet, in other ways it feels just like yesterday. I have no way of knowing if that was the day I was redeemed, but it was the day I said, “Father, Jesus died just for me, and today I want to come and tell you that I’m sorry He had to go to the cross and I want to be a Christian.”

They say that when one comes to Christ there is rejoicing in heaven. I’m not sure if that’s true, but I wonder tonight if there is also rejoicing on spiritual birthdays? Happy birthday to me.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Directed Steps

As I was walking to the market this afternoon I noticed an old man ahead of me. Walking with uncertainty with his cane, I realized that he was blind. The street is under repairs and this old man was walking toward a hole that would surely cause him to fall and cause serious injury. The old man detected something was wrong as he no longer was walking on pavement but dirt and rocks. A car appeared suddenly at the intersection and, seeing the old man’s impending misfortune, began to honk his horn. All this did was confuse the old man, and he quickened his shuffling feet toward the hole. Inches from calamity, I reached out and took the old man’s arm and guided him to safety. He had no idea who grabbed him as I never spoke. He wasn’t aware of his predicament I rescued him from, but it didn’t matter -- he was safe and I went on my way.

I’m not one to spiritualize everything and I don’t look for a lesson from God in everything that happens throughout the day. But this incident gave me something to think about as I continued my trip to town.

As I walk through this existence called life, I am the blind man trying to reach a destination not well defined. My steps are always uncertain, but if I’m on a familiar road I manage. Too often, I find myself walking on uneven terrain and, though I sense danger, I can’t really comprehend the seriousness of my situation. I hear the noise around me, friends, family, my culture – but I can’t discern the meaning of the racket. Are they warnings, advice or just voices of irritation for me to walk the way they want me to walk? Maybe the clamor is frustration for me just to get out of the way.

In the midst of my confusion a hand grabs me by the arm and gently guides my feet across the road. I never hear a voice, I never see the face, but I know He was there. Because I am blind, I have no idea what ditch I was about to fall into but grateful that I can feel the solid ground beneath me. I continue my shuffle toward an uncertain destination, grateful that I have a present God who directs my steps.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

When The Rules Change

I’ve received several messages of encouragement this past week from friends all over the world. Since I made the decision to resign from the organization I’ve worked with for fifteen years to launch out on my own, the typical comment has been, “Sorry to see you go, but not surprised.”

One colleague wrote saying that he, too, felt frustrated and wondered about his future? He said that within his organization things have changed and felt like he was being squeezed. His story was not unlike mine, so I reminded him what Bob Buford wrote in his most recent book, FINISHING WELL,

“You can choose the game, but not the rules…Every game has its own rules and you don’t get to make them up. You choose your game and adapt to its rules.”

Like my friend, I chose the game in 1989, knowing what the rules were. I followed the rules and played the game well, doing what God has gifted me to do. In 2002 the rules changed. I don’t fault the organization for changing the rules, though it affected my life and of course felt their decision was a breach of promise. The changing of rules is not really the issue (United Airlines recently reneged on a promise of pensions. There is nothing in life that is guaranteed). What IS important was my response to what happens when the rules change. Buford continues,

“…if you find that the rules chafe, restrict, and don’t allow expression of your potential, you either CHANGE GAMES or CREATE YOUR OWN. The game you choose is your context. Once you know your core, you need to find the context that brings forth the best from your unique gifts and abilities.”

My friend’s dilemma is that he is in a financial corner. He suffers through the bureaucracy of his organization because he knows he will lose support if he refuses to play by the rules of the game. He feels trapped, at this time, as he can’t jeopardize his family’s welfare. My advice to him is to continue to follow the rules while seeking God for a different context. That’s not disloyalty, that’s taking control of your own life and asking God to direct your steps in the process (Pr. 16:9). I do not see this brother as an entrepreneur, so he won’t be creating his own game, but he will probably find another game that is more suited for his gifts.

But some people do indeed create a new game. Jim Collins, author of GOOD TO GREAT confesses, “I’m constitutionally unemployable. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial streak…I had to create my own organization…I eventually realized I had to find a context that would fit me like a glove. At a gut level, I think, there’s a need for a self-created context when you’re not wasting energy battling the fact that you’re in somebody’s else’s context.”

Maybe that’s what my friends mean when they write, “Sorry to see you go, but not surprised.”

Friday, May 13, 2005


Yesterday my landlord observed a memorial service for his son who passed away seven years ago. The Hindu priest came to the house and the surviving family members, which included the widow and their daughter, a sister and her husband, came together to pray that the soul of this son would have peace, “wherever he might be,” as Mr. Jighan explained to me.

In the extended family system, the eldest son and family live with the parents. Mr. Jinghan expected his only son would outlive him and take care of he and his wife in their old age. Now eighty-five years old, in poor health, I watch my friend slowly moving toward eternity without Christ. Mr. Jinghan has been an agonistic most of his life, and it’s only because of his impending demise that he even talks about God. I’ve spent hours talking with him about Christ, but, as far as I can see, he is no closer to understanding the Good News as when we moved into the flat above him two years ago. Sometimes I feel the only thing I have accomplished is to make him a better Hindu as he has a greater consciousness of God. Our liveliest debate was over Billy Graham’s book, “Peace With God,” which someone gave his son before he died. Mr. Jinghan’s reaction to the book was that, “This Mr. Graham, whoever he is, basically says that his God is superior to my God.” He does not see the uniqueness of Christ. He feels no compelling reason to leave the gods of his culture to embrace a faith that is every bit as odd to him as his 330 million gods are to me.

I sometimes listen to myself talk to my friend and it sounds pretty weird – Jesus, the God-man, born of a virgin, dying on a cross for the sins of humanity, who rose from the dead. I get it, but then, I was schooled in that thought. Sure, it’s written in God’s Word, but the Muslims have their holy book, the Hindu’s have their divine scriptures, the Mormons posses the inspired works of Joseph Smith. We reject those writings as we don’t accept their veracity, and besides, the stories seem absurd, the same thing that Mr. Jinghan thinks when I talk to him about life of Christ.

In the end, I know that salvation comes, not through power of persuasion, but only through the power of the God’s Spirit. It all comes down to the issue of faith. I do not believe that God has predetermined Mr. Jinghan to eternal judgment but believe that He, in His loving-kindness, has allowed me to tell him about my Savior. His love for my friend is greater than mine. I have done all I know to do. I pray for Mr. Jinghan, but I feel helpless.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Prison Practices

I was driving down a dusty road in the bush of Kenya several years back with a visiting pastor from the states. Suddenly he yelled, “Stop the car! Back up!"

Instincts made me slam down the brake and when I got the truck stopped I asked what was up?

“There’s some naked tribesman taking a bath in a mud hole back there. I want to take a picture.”

Disgusted, I put the truck in first and stepped on the gas.

“Hey, Lewis, what’s wrong? Why aren’t you backing up?”

“How would you like for someone to barge into your bathroom and take a picture of you taking a shower,” I asked?

“American tourists,” I thought to myself. “They seem to only want to take pictures of the destitute, crippled or naked.”

I thought about that incident before I submitted this blog. India is a fascinating country and if you’ve been reading the news at all you know it’s one of the hottest economies in the world. However, all cultures have a dark side. I don’t want to take only unflattering pictures of this sub-continent, but here are a couple of items that caught my eye in the newspapers this past week.


“Police sources report the 200th suicide for 2005. The unofficial figure is closer to 400. Welcome to Delhi, India’s crime capital – and on it’s way to becoming its suicide capital too.”

The article goes on to say that most of the suicides are those in the 15 – 29 age group, mostly from the middle class.


“It’s an open secret that many nursing homes in the Capital illegally provide prospective parents with sex-determination tests. This has contributed to the skewed female-male sex ratio in the Capital – put at 878 females per 1,000 males by the 2001 census.”

The reason for foeticide is because of the dowry system, where the family of the bride pays the family of the groom at marriage. It’s a heavy burden on a family that has daughters but no sons. Every day in India there are reports of dowry disputes, beatings and even killings of wives whose family has not paid dowry.

All cultures are, as my friend Sherwood Lingenfelter of Fuller Seminary says, are a prison of disobedience. In a country of 330 million gods, the one that is prayed to more often is the god of prosperity. The middle class becomes despondent because they fear their future; they eliminate those in society that could cause financial setbacks.

Pray for India. It can’t, nor can America, save itself. The Gospel is the only real hope.

Friday, April 29, 2005


He is 94 years old and people still seek his counsel. Peter Drucker writes,

“In a few hundred years, when the history of our time will be written from a long-term perspective, I think it is very probable that the most important event these historians will see is not technology, it is not the Internet, it is not e-commerce. It is an unprecedented change in the human condition. For the first time—and I mean that literally—substantial and rapidly growing numbers of people have choices. For the first time, they will have to MANAGE THEMSELVES.”

Of course Drucker is speaking primarily to a Western audience. Americans value independence and self-reliance. In other societies, where the extended family or the clan provide support and guidance, self-management is not an ideal but is often condemned. Pulling together, in business or family, is the preferred way to live.

Though I do not believe capitalism and free-market economy is God ordained, it fits well with our American sense of pioneer rugged individualism. The concept of self-discipline, the rights of believer priest in each follower of Christ, can be found in the Scriptures. Our decisions are our own and no man will be able to stand before God and claim that we failed because of the decisions of others. In our society, those who blame others for poor decisions we call “playing the victim.” Though a person may indeed have a disadvantage growing up in an abusive or alcoholic family that does not give them license to practice irresponsible behavior.

Because of this independent mindset we Americans seem to have, it’s vital that, as self-managers, we seek out those who can help us in our decisions. I’m blessed to have a wife who helps me see my blind spots and who is not afraid to tell me when she thinks I’m wrong. Having grown children, I freely share my struggles and listen to their perspectives. I am very fortunate to have friends who I can call on who provide insights from an outsider’s point of view. Ultimately, I have to make the call. It goes without saying, that as a self-manager I must go to the Master and seek wisdom that can only come from above. Self-management doesn’t mean going it alone, it merely means that you do not rest on the decisions of others to manage your life.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Cabin Fever

Cabin fever is often a phenomenon that conjures visions of someone being trapped in the house for days because of a blizzard. With twelve feet of snow on the ground it’s not easy to get out of the house. No wonder spring is everyone’s favorite season as one can get out of the house, smell the flowers, and breathe fresh air again.

Right now I am in the beginning phase of cabin fever in India. Hardly due to cold or snow, it’s 104 degrees outside and by mid-May it will be an even more oppressive 115 degrees. All houses in this city of 12 million are made of cement blocks and living on the second floor we are blessed with all the heat that bears down. Our apartment retains the heat in its walls throughout the night, so if it cools down to 95 outside it will remain over 100 in our flat. With our one air conditioner churning all day, we pray the power doesn’t go off.

In such heat one does not easily get out of the house. Since we don’t own a car, if we go anywhere it’s by foot or auto rickshaw. One can actually get heat burn from riding in an open auto rickshaw when it’s 115 degrees. The dilemma is to suffer outside or continue to feel the walls moving in?

Ministry? Forget about it. From the middle of April to the first of June no one moves, unless it’s out of the city to a cooler place for summer vacation. This is the time to write, read and try to survive.

My greatest challenge during this time in India is recognizing that writing, re-working lessons I will teach in the fall, is as important as standing before a classroom. If a cross-cultural worker doesn’t have a sense of responsibility, to God and those who partner with him in the work, it would be easy to just drift. Having a good work ethic is to remember that if you don’t show up for work on Monday, you won’t get paid on Friday. Having cabin fever is no excuse for not showing up for work, it just makes it a little more challenging.

Thursday, April 07, 2005


A friend of mine noticed a blue plastic Wal-Mart bag with his name on it in the office of a co-worker recently. When he opened it up, it was from headquarters with a plaque and a standard note that said, “In recognition of ten years of service.”

My friends experience reminded me of one of my favorite Dilbert cartoons. Dilbert is standing in front of his boss, a fat, balding guy, with pointy hair.

“We’re giving you a promotion,” the boss tells Dilbert. “Your pay will remain the same but you will have more responsibility. It’s how we RECOGNIZE our BEST people.”

“I thought our BEST people left to join other companies,” Dilbert replies.

With a sense of resignation the boss sighs, “That’s ANOTHER way we recognize them.”

Monday, March 28, 2005

Holding On To Your Righteousness

Each morning this week in Hyderabad we have started the day with prayer and devotions in the chapel. I am asking my Indian students to share their favorite Scripture verse, those that have been especially meaningful and an encouragement for them. Most of the passages have come from the book of Psalms, so you can imagine my surprise when one fellow cited Job 27:6:

“My righteousness I hold fast, and will not let it go: my heart shall not reproach me so long as I live.”

Job is one of my favorite Bible characters and I use him often in my teaching. Here was a man who greatly suffered and was accused by his friends, and even his wife, for wrongdoing. Their counsel was he needed to acknowledge his sin and repent before God. Job steadfastly refused to admit to a wrong that he was not guilty of. I have often thought it took a great deal of courage for him to stand up against majority opinion. How devastating it must have been for him to listen to misinformed people moralize and cast judgment. No doubt it was also offensive. A lesser man would have yielded, asking for forgiveness, coping a plea of having committed an unknown sin. Not Job. He would not have any of it.

If you did not know the conclusion of the life of Job, his words in this verse would seem arrogant. In the preceding verse he seems to be defiant as he confronts his prosecutor’s.

“God forbid that I should justify you...” Job not only refused to be accused but he was accusing the accusers, for their malicious as well as unjustified judgment on his life. He continues, “Till I die I will not remove mine integrity.” Obstinate and self-righteous fellow, that Job.

We know that Job’s antagonist’s were mere instrument’s of the Accuser. That seems to be Lucifer’s most delightful game, bringing charge against God’s own. Most of us walk about feeling this weight of accusation, the feeling that we are sinful, inadequate and indeed, just downright wretched in the sight of the One who created us. Job would have none of it. Though he did not understand the circumstances that caused the world to crumble around him, and he categorically wasn’t going to let the false accusations of other’s determine his future.

To be sure, we must confess our wrongdoings when we have clearly made a mistake. Jehovah did deal with Job’s attitude as his dialogue about the Almighty crossed the line in questioning God’s integrity. In the end, however, God supported Job’s claims of righteousness and dealt harshly with Job’s fussy friends (42:7-9).

Courage to claim righteousness in face of public opinion -- from your peers, your church, or even your own theology, is not an easy thing. That’s what makes Job such a unique person in Scripture. If you know you are right, don’t take the easy way out by yielding your integrity. Hold on to your righteousness, as long as you have breath.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Non-Profit Venture

In my classes I require my students to give me “interactive papers.” I give them an article to read, on subjects that range from culture theory, animism, living overseas etc., to supplement classroom lectures. By requiring them to interact with the articles they are forced to think through the issues of the article, not just read it. It’s a good practice, and something I do often in my own reading.

I’m presently reading, Finishing Well: What People Who REALLY Live Do Differently, by Bob Buford. In interviewing several prominent people who are living beyond success to significance, Peter Drucker makes this comment on the motivation for those who are involved in non-profit activities.

Business supplies…either good or services. Government controls. A business has discharged its task when the customer buys the product, pays for it, and is satisfied with it. Government has discharged its function when its policies are effective. The “non-profit”” institution neither supplies goods or services nor controls. Its “product” is neither a pair of shoes nor an effective regulation. ITS PRODUCT IS A CHANGED HUMAN BEING [emphasis mine]. The nonprofit institutions are human-change agents. Their “product” is a cured patient, a child that learns, a young man or woman grown into a self-respecting adult; a changed human life altogether.

As I read Drucker’s words I thought, “That’s what I do.” While some may call me a missionary, a teacher or trainer in cross-cultural church planting, one could also say that I am in a non-profit business to change the lives of human beings. Thirty-five years ago I went into ministry for one reason, to make a difference in the lives of others by telling them about them about Jesus Christ, and the peace that He gives to those who accept Him as their Savior. It’s not an occupation that is monetarily profitable and, like all in my profession, finding people to support my non-profit activities is challenging and wearing. But the rewards of my work, and those who support this effort, go far beyond financial benefits. God has called all of us to live lives of be change agents in making a difference in the lives of others. It’s a noble calling. It’s a noble pursuit.

The next time you see a missionary presentation, perhaps it would be helpful not to see them as merely trying to raise support. Perhaps a better perspective is to see them as a member of a non-profit venture seeking ways to help people, both now and for eternity. You will get a tax write-off and help point people to the Savior in the process.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Bridge or Barrier to God?

Is it possible that the church is sometimes an obstacle to world evangelism?

The church (small “c” referring to the local body of believers) is both a bridge and a barrier throughout the world. I’ve seen it in every country in which I’ve had the privilege of working. The primary purpose of the church is equipping believers for ministry and for their spiritual growth (Ephesians 4:12); yet in many places, it has taken on the role of gatekeeper into the Kingdom. Becoming a follower of Christ seems no longer to be a matter of faith but a matter of taking on the identity of the Christian culture as defined by the local assembly making the rules. Let me explain:

Several years ago in Kenya, some new believers asked me if it was okay for them to use the drum in their worship. The early missionaries, as well as many churches in that area, believed that it was inappropriate since the tribe used the drum in their festivals. Witch doctors also used it. I always thought the indigenous form of singing was much more appropriate than singing the Swahili translation of “How Firm a Foundation,” so I told them using a drum was a non-issue.

Almost every new believer wanted to ask me questions about behavioral issues for Christians—issues with questions such as: was it okay to baptize a man who had ten wives; could they continue to drink blood as a part of their diet; should they cover their naked bodies? While all of these subjects are interesting and perhaps worthy of discussion, I have always wondered about the message we were sending to those without Christ? If behavior was what the lost world focused on in terms of becoming a Christian, was our message of faith hindered by our stance on works? As they relate to salvation, do these issues even matter?

Today the trend in the North American church is to support nationals; however, I contend that, because of the Christian culture among nationals, they are more often than not an obstacle to the lost. Can a Sikh believer still wear his turban after salvation? Can a Hindu woman continue to wear a “bindi” (dot on her forehead)? Can a Buddhist still revere his ancestors? Many national churches forbid such behavior—not because they understand the cultural practices, but because they are bound by the culture of a faith that dictates particulars which they believe are biblical principles.

In the West we have fought the cultural behavior war for years. Can a Christian go to movies (doesn’t seem to be a much of an issue these days), have a beer, or get a tattoo? In ancient times, it was the issue of eating pork or being circumcised. In some churches in Russia, a woman cannot come into the assembly without a head covering; and in Viet Nam, one must wear a white shirt if he is going to speak to the congregation. Some Indian Christians greet everyone with “Praise the Lord,” while some won’t shake the hand of a non-believer lest they be defiled.

I have a friend who is 25 years my junior and who became a Christian through the witness of his friends at a university. He had resisted the church and would never darken its door to hear the gospel. Soon after his conversion, his friends gathered in a park, smoked cigars, and lifted their glasses of bourbon in celebration of one who became a follower of Christ. He’s now a missionary, and, yes, he still drinks bourbon. While he is careful not to offend the brethren, his witness among those who are not yet followers is strong.

My generation has a difficult time with such a story, but post-modern Christians don’t seem to blur the lines between the issues of salvation and perceived proper behavior. As a friend of sinners, I wonder if Jesus lifted a glass of wine; He certainly was accused of associating with those who did (Lk. 7:33,34).

In the country where I live, which has a Christian population of less than two percent and in five years is projected to be less, it’s important that we train nationals to think beyond the culture of their faith. It’s true that every believer is to be a new creature in Christ, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that being a believer mandates giving up one’s cultural heritage. Training nationals goes beyond just exegeting the Scriptures; it also means exegeting the context. Until the church understands that, they will continue to be more of a barrier than a bridge to the Good News of Christ.