Friday, June 30, 2006

Never No More

“They are no more.”

That is the way Hindu’s refer to the death of their family or friends. It’s an interesting expression, which says a great deal about their worldview. In contrast, in the West we refer to the death of someone by saying they have “passed away.”

Most Hindu’s believe in reincarnation, a 12,000 recycling of the soul into other forms of life until one reaches moksha (freedom from cyclical life). When someone dies they are no more from their present state; they are also no more from their identity as a person. My 80-year-old friend, Mr. Kumar, ceases not only to live, but also to be Mr. Kumar. He really wasn’t Mr. Kumar when I knew him; it was just his present state. Mr. Kumar is no more; he is now someone or something else. While this teaching may seem odd to those outside the faith, Hindu’s find comfort that life continues even if the state of that person does not.

Those in the West, who do not believe in reincarnation, and especially those of the Christian tradition, view death as the continuation of the personality, passing from life on this earth into an eternal condition. Where that eternal state may be is often a subject of debate. For evangelical Christians we point to the Holy Scriptures, the book of Hebrews which states, “It is appointed ONCE to die, and after that the judgment” (9:27). (Judgment does not refer to punishment but accountability).

Working with the Turkana of Kenya, most of the people were animists. They did not have a concept of an on-going living soul and therefore believed that the death of person meant they were no more. Unlike the Hindu, however, the soul does not move into another cycle of life, but really are no more. The worldview of the nomads in the desert and that of the educated atheist in the halls of academia, at least on this issue, are the same.

As I write this post, my mother-in-law is near death (which literally means separation). When she is separated from this life, her family and friends, she will pass to an eternal state. She, like all of us, has been created unique in person, uniquely an eternal personality. Our Eternal Creator, which does not change in either form or function, remains consistent with His creation. For those who are followers of Christ, we move from separation of life on earth, but we are never no more.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

In The Area?

I never call a business meeting unless there is business to discuss.

I never run through an airport to catch a flight.

I never make eye contact with women when traveling through Asia, even if I am talking to them.

I almost never say “grace” over my food unless the person with me insists.

I never read the manual prior to plugging in a new computer program.


I announced last spring that I would be in the states for the summer. The months of May through July it is too hot in the country we live and my teaching assignments are not in that period, so it’s a good time to return home and visit friends, sponsors and family. At least three donors have written, “If you’re in the area, please come by and see us.”

Perhaps we need definition – what does it mean to be in the area? Between the price of gas and driving time, my area is about 350 miles. Living in northwest Arkansas when we are home, my area then is Arkansas, Oklahoma, north Texas, Kansas and Missouri. Anything beyond that and we are looking at it being cheaper and more time efficient for me to fly.

It was 1975 when I first went out to raise support for our work. Back then gas was $0.58 a gallon (about $1.69 adjusting for inflation in today’s economy) and so driving 300 miles for a $50 dollar honorarium and $35 dollar monthly support wasn’t a bad deal. I wish I could have stayed in a 500-mile radius of home, but that was impossible, so our partners are spread from California to Connecticut. I’m only in another area if someone invites me.

I try to communicate to our partners via email monthly, sometimes more. But I know a personal visit is important. I suppose next year I should plan on being in other areas, but I can already hear it now...“June is not a good month for us, will you be in the area in July?”

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Struggling With Discontentment

I always enjoy being in my home country, but inevitably I feel unsettled and unhappy with my life. Recently I was with a couple of guys who were telling me about their homes, their vacations and their investments. There is nothing wrong with any of this, but then I begin comparing what I have, or more to the point, what I don’t have, to others. If I wasn’t a nomad, bouncing all over God’s planet, and would settle down in the US, perhaps I would be content. Then again…naw, I probably wouldn’t. But discontent in not being content drives me to write this blog.

The Scriptures (1 Timothy 6:6) tell us that having godly contentment is great gain. Random thoughts on contentment:

• Contentment is not something to achieve…it’s a process. The prayer of the frustrated, “Lord give me patience and give it to me NOW,” doesn’t work. Contentment and patience often work hand-in-hand.

• If one cannot be content in their present state they probably will never be content. Ask anyone who sought fame and found it, or fortune and became rich, most of the time they die lonely. Contentment is a state of mind, not a goal to achieve.

• Our culture is rooted in discontent (capitalism exports discontent). A thousand voices yell at me each day saying, “If you just had this, you’d be happy.” The genius of capitalism is that it markets a necessity that you really don’t need. It’s called an illusion.

• Interestingly, Hindu’s (dharma) and Muslims Inshaallah (the will of God) are a form of contentment based on fatalism. They are not happier, they are just resigned.

• Unchecked ambition pulls one off balance from being centered in contentment. Nothing wrong with ambition until one strives for the prize, which in the end, will never satisfy.

• On the other end of the spectrum is the idleness disguised as being passively content. You’re not content, you’re just lazy squandering God given ability.

Paul also says (6:8), having food and clothing we should be content. I may not have the best food or clothing, but I sure have it better than many of the people I work with every day outside the US. Wisdom plans for the future, but does not strive to attain that which will always be out of reach. If we work to seek first the things of God, the other things will take care of itself.

Monday, June 19, 2006

What Is Missions?

There is a lot of confusion in the American church when it comes to missions. First of all, what is missions? Which project listed below would your church fund out of the mission budget?

a. Vacation Bible School
b. Radio or television ministry
c. Youth camp
d. Christian crisis pregnancy clinics
e. Promise Keepers event
f. Starting a new church in the neighboring town or state
g. Funding mission or global outreach conference

If your view of missions leans more towards cross-cultural work, what projects does your church support (probably a combination with the list below, so what are the percentages)?

1. Church planting only
2. Church planting primarily in unreached countries
3. Social programs (orphanages, food programs or medical projects)
4. Training programs (schools, training material, trainers)
5. Literature (Bibles, tracts)
6. American personnel
7. National pastors or evangelists

What is your definition of missions? Last week I heard of a young couple that presented their ministry for Senegal. The mission committee responded by saying, “We would love to support you, but our short-term mission trips have depleted our budget.” Recently a “mission team” from Louisianaiana traveled to northwest Arkansas to conduct Back Yard Bible Clubs. Just what is missions?

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Training In Ukraine

I met Sergey in Ukraine at a pastors conference hosted by Church Leadership Development International ( He attended my workshop on “Being a Bridge for God.” Sergey had a lot of questions, as everything I taught was new to him. English is not his first language, but I was delighted to receive this note from him.

"I want to tell you, that after that week that I had a possibility to attend your lectures I refilled my spiritual strength, and started to work even willingly at the God’s field. When I came back home from that conference I talked to my wife and we come to decision that my family will follow the Lord, and since that time our home belongs to God and we will serve him.

Please pray for a chance to start a service among Gypsies. If everything will be alright I am planning to start this in September. I wish I could visit you and learn more about correct missionary work. I am grateful to you once again that you devote your time for me."

Sergey, like most pastors in the former Soviet Union, serve bi-vocationally. I have great admiration for guys like Sergey and so many other faithful servants who work hard each day to put physical bread on their table but also work diligently to give the Bread of Life to those in their community. CLDI provides a great opportunity for pastors to get training. I am grateful for the opportunity I had to be a part of this year’s conference and to get an chance to encourage and help people, like Sergey, in their ministry.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Role Model In Dying

Malcom is a guy who works in Taiwan. I’m not sure if I’ve personally met Malcom, but we have interacted several times over email. I think we probably don’t see eye-to-eye on some missiological issues, but we have more in common than disagreements.

Malcom is dying. He has cancer and, according to a recent post by his wife, probably doesn’t have long to live. Malcom sent a post today to his friends saying that he is too weak to continue much dialogue and gave a farewell to those who know him.

I’m writing these thoughts about Malcom because he is a bit of a role model to me on how to die. Even though his fate is sealed with an incurable disease, he hasn’t made a big deal about it. Instead of dwelling on the inevitable, he has been trying to carry on with life as usual. I know he is concerned about his families welfare after he’s gone, but the tone of the way he is winding up his days on this earth seems to be one of quite resolve and bit matter-of-fact. That’s what I admire about Malcom’s dying.

I contrast Malcom’s situation with others I have known which have faced the expected. Their letters, unlike Malcom’s, is a weekly medical update and prayer for deliverance, that God will miraculously intervene. Malcom has also asked that people pray for him, but more for grace as he nears his end as well as for those who he will leave behind.

I have no idea how I would react if I was told I had cancer and may or may not live for another year. But as a Christian, who claims that my hope is in Christ and to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, I should see death as a spectacular transition to the fulfillment of my purpose of existence. I would like to think I would seek all the medical help possible, as I don’t think we are to foolishly hasten our own demise. But when it becomes crystal clear that my days are few, I hope that, as much as my ailing body will allow, I will carry on with life as usual until I can’t wake up.

Thanks, Malcom, for a great example on how to die. We will see you soon.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

So You Think Your Church Is Missional?

My wife, Sandy, has a theory about churches and their understanding of world missions. If in the Q and A they ask questions beyond, "What do the natives eat?" they are probably above average.

I thought about that theory when I received this cartoon from a friend of mine.

Monday, June 05, 2006

I'm Back

After one week in Colorado and this past week in Ukraine, I am back to the world of blogosphere. Things I learned while away from my computer:

1. I still can’t fish. I like the concept of catching trout with a fly (seems more organic), and it’s more fun slinging the fly-line back and forth…but I still don’t catch fish.

2. I’m not in as good physical shape as I thought. The mountain I climbed at Crested Butte three years ago I gave up on before reaching the top this year. The route we took was steeper than before, but the reality is my legs gave up on me.

3. I hate to drive. The reason God created airplanes was for trips over six hours. Even with my son-in-law sharing the driving load, 16 hours in a van is not an enjoyable experience.

4. Even though they are grown and we lived in the same house for a week, I still love my kids and grandkids.

5. People who share their wealth are a rare treasure. The people who provided the lodge we stayed in built it specifically to give people who live overseas a place of retreat.

6. Russian food is still my least favorite. Hot dogs and potatoes for lunch or supper is not a hardy meal.

7. I hate flying in the summer. Way too many tourists.

8. Charles de Gaulle is the most inefficient airport in Europe. If you have an hour or less to catch your connecting flight, forget about it.

9. Good cheeseburgers can be had at TGI Friday’s in Kiev.

10. The world keeps on moving, whether I have Internet access or not.