Tag Archives: Culture

Oblivious

Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10, WEB) 

I can be oblivious at times. As Beth will attest, it’s usually when I’ve got my thoughts deeply imbedded in a particularly difficult conundrum trying to unravel the pieces of a complex problem to create an elegant and simple solution. At other times I’m just tired from resolving the aforementioned puzzle and my brain goes into the oft ridiculed “nothing” box which every male keeps handy for escape and relaxation. But, there are many areas of life where I endeavor to be very observant. Sometimes for safety reasons and other times to insure I’m behaving appropriately for the sake of those around me.

When I was growing up my parents instilled in me certain cultural expectations and behaviors for the sake of politeness and common sense. One of those areas was driving habits. Always look out for the other driver. Don’t do anything which can distract you from the road. Always pay attention to your surroundings just in case you need an unexpected detour to escape an accident or obstruction.

Driving back from the beach one day Beth and I were enjoying some music as we cruised down the highway. Traffic was minimal but there were a few other autos peppered along he highway. We slowly passed some and others passed us. Then a big car went flying past us in the left lane. Being passed was not unusual for us. However, when I looked over at the driver he was reading. He wasn’t glancing at highway signs but held a book in his hand, in front of the steering wheel, and was reading and turning pages as he evidently exceeded the speed limit in a casual fashion.

Aghast at the apparent lack of concern for other vehicles or his personal safety it reminded me of other “modern” annoyances. I’ll admit I’ve done some stupid things and been oblivious to others around me. Still, I try to be courteous and not endanger my fellow human beings. I’m not old fashioned when it comes to technology and courtesy.

How many times have you stood in line when someone answered their cell phone? There’s normally nothing wrong with that. We carry cell phones to be available everywhere (another topic I’ll leave for another post). However, if you have to shout into the phone so loud that others stare at you then something is amiss. If your phone is that poor get a new phone. I’m convinced the person you’re talking to can hear your booming voice without the aid of the telecommunications network. Really people. Show some consideration and concern for those around you.

Back on the driving kick and cell phones, driving, and traffic lights. Is your life so hectic and important that you must text or call someone every time your car comes to a stop. And, what makes you think that suddenly driving below the speed limit on a busy road makes it safe to text or call someone? Where did common sense go?

It just seems to me people have become so self absorbed that there’s a perpetual lack of attention to anyone and anything around them. You’re so important that holding hands and spanning an entire walkway in a busy mall is OK even if other shoppers are piling up behind your show of family unity. Who cares if the waiter can’t hear your order because the person a couple tables away is shouting in their phone?

People are taking a back seat to what “I” want or the prevalent persistent attention seeking electronic devices so ubiquitously beeping and clanging not to be ignored. We’ve become too worried that we might miss something happening and thus be a social outcast because we failed to read, laugh at, and comment on some bane, self indulgent post on social media. We cannot travel 60 seconds without a conversation which is best left to our full attention.

I’m reminded of the Psalmist’s admonition to pay attention. Be still, and know that I am God the Lord proclaims. We can’t be in tune with our savior and creator if we are always focusing on the creation and the things we’ve created. When flushed with a need to tweet, text, post or otherwise interact via an impersonal piece of electronics; perhaps it’s time to pause, quiet our thoughts, still our heart, and realize God is the one in control. When we lift our eyes to focus on the God of the universe it keep us from becoming oblivious to those around us, the very ones He created just as he created us. He’ll keep our vision focused and not oblivious.

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Dictionary Death

However in the assembly I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I might instruct others also, than ten thousand words in another language. (1 Corinthians 14:19 WEB)

Hw r u 2dy? Im jst fn. 2dy the wrld hs cndnsd lnguge 2 abrv wds wth fw n2rsprd vwls. Lke rdng nglsh cmpsd by nnpntd hbrw athrs. amzgly mst cn rd ths wth lttl effrt. Lts tlk abt ths mgrtn frm cmplt lngge 2 crptc cmmnctn.

In my life, I’ve been heavily involved in electronics and communications media. From suitcase powered radios to rotary operator assisted car phones which filled the trunk with electronics and tubes to cell phones that fit into the palm of my hand to smart phones, suitcase computers, laptops, notebooks and tablets. In each case one of the objectives of the device was to carry information from one place to another. In most cases, it was to allow two or more people the ethereal ability to communicate across long distances without physical connections.

As we moved from verbal loquaciousness to SMS the bandwidth allowed to communicate our message was reduced from limitless expressions of proper grammar and vocabulary to 240 characters or less. What might be expressed, discussed and clarified in several minutes of verbal banter has been redacted to basic simplistic monosyllabic abbreviated gobbledygook. I used to carefully consult a dictionary while composing even a simple letter to insure my spelling, word choices, and grammar were succinctly carrying the precise entirety of my message to the recipient. It was a combination of both form and content which carried a clear thought or concept.

For centuries mankind carefully crafted its many languages to insure one person understood what the other person was communicating. In some cultures, the dogged inflexibility of the language and its resident grammar police have stifled the etymological progression necessary to encompass the radical changes in modern life brought about by modern technological developments. In other cultures, the adaptability of the language, inclusion of any workable word from any background for clarity, made the language highly flexible in a cross cultural interaction. Thus, some languages are preferred over others for international encounters and business.

Then along comes the modern, highly technological generation, not well versed in their own language much less any other, who thrive around the convenience of instant messaging. To accommodate this new limited bandwidth, they develop their own micro language distilled from the few roots of the mother tongue they remember and peppered with regional dialectical expressions. To the generation which preceded them it seems disrespectful to the nuances of their historical language. To the generation following them it’s a stepping stone to further distill an expansive and often cumbersome language into even smaller packages.

What can be done? Not much of anything. This sort of dictionary death has developed around the world from generation to generation. As a missionary, I’ve dealt with language barriers over and over. Sometimes I’ve been successful in discerning the Rosetta stone aspects of different tongues to communicate on a fundamental level. Other times . . . not so much. Some think we’re moving toward a global tongue. Some think social media has provided a platform for language to morph into an abbreviated conglomeration of multiple cultural languages and dialects understood at least at a fundamental level by all.

I’m not a linguist and apparently neither was the apostle Paul. I agree with his assessment of tongues and languages. It’s better to find those fundamental few words which express God’s love and the propitiation for our salvation than to expound fluently filling tome after tome. Which dictionary can we consult to share God’s grace today?

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Joy in Our Faith (1 Peter 1:6-9)

More than once in my life I’ve been a stranger in a strange land. In our years of ministry I’ve traveled to numerous countries around the globe. I’ve lived almost as much of my life outside my homeland as I have inside. I identified with the phrase in verse one. Peter wrote, “To God’s elect, strangers in the world . . .” Many of you can identify, like I can, with that feeling of being a stranger in this world. Some may think I’m just strange, but that’s a different story.

It’s easy to feel like an outsider while living away from our birth culture. And the same is true when we become members of God’s family. Suddenly our home is no longer the USA, Ghana, Iran, Austria or the Philippines. Our culture changes when we are born again and we become strangers in this world. There are many parallels in the fallen world where we presently live and Peter’s revelation in these verses. When we move to a different land we discover another culture, maybe another language, definitely another way to thinking. This makes us the outsider and the stranger. With this comes a certain hazard inherent in our transplanted home. We discover trials, difficulties and other inconveniences which constantly remind us that we are the strangers living in someone else’s world. They also bring our attention back to our new, true home with God. This is where we discover a reason to greatly rejoice.

The believers Peter addressed understood living as strangers and were troubled by their trials. Turn with me to chapter one beginning in verse six to see God’s advice through Peter’s letter.

1 Peter 1:6-9 (NIV)

6 In this you greatly rejoice, . . .

In what do we greatly rejoice? My friend Bjoern spoke about this a couple weeks ago. He listed reasons to rejoice from the opening verses of the epistle. In verse five we saw that we rejoice in God’s protection, His shield which keeps us until the end of the present world. God will not let us go. With His omnipotent hands, He holds each of us. Our hands tell the story of our lives. Each wrinkle, crevice and crease reveals who we are. Jesus’ hands spoke of His obedience and love for us. Jesus also spoke about God’s hands and what it means to our salvation?  Join me in the Gospel of John chapter 10.

John 10:27-30 (NIV)

27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.

We are called to greatly rejoice in our salvation. This rejoicing is to find a place above everything else going on. It’s not here in the present world we plan to spend eternity but with God. Once we focus our lives on the eternal future we can deal with the limited present. God wants to turn our attention away from the finite present to the infinite future. At times his teaching instrument is a test. And tests are seldom fun. Back to verse 6:

1 Peter 1:6-9 (NIV)

6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.

I’m glad Peter used a special word for various. The Greek word ποικίλος (poikilos) can also mean many colored. I like that imagery. This word is used by Peter in one other place. Glance at Chapter 4 verse 10. “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” (NIV) Our troubles may be many-colored, but so is the grace of God; there is no color in the human situation that grace cannot match. There is grace to match every trial and there is no trial without its grace. (W. Barclay) We don’t know what is coming but God is sufficient whatever the challenge.

In verse 6 we also read, “. . . though now for a little while.” While God’s grace is never ending, our trials do end. I’m comforted and can have great joy knowing there is an end. Trials are distressing and a burden. But we can rejoice in Jesus promise when he said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28 NIV) But nothing happens without a purpose in God’s world. Back to our passage:

1 Peter 1:6-9 (NIV)

6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine. . .

I have faith in the security of the believer. I find comfort in God’s assurance of my salvation. Sometimes events make us look closely at our faith. One year our daughter lost her baby only a few weeks before her due date. During that time our faith was tested as we suffered grief. God used that tragedy in our family to help us understand his grace and the surety of our faith. We could stand with God in our faith or turn away. But turning away isn’t an option for the true believer.

I agree with the Apostle John when he writes about those who appear to lose their faith, “19 They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.” (1 John 2:18b-19 NIV) There are many “posers” in the body of Christ. There are people who say the right things, do the right stuff but don’t believe. True believers know who they are and rejoice that God is protecting their salvation.

Our trials are for our benefit. We don’t usually see the benefits of trials while they’re happening. We just see the problem. It just isn’t fun! Peter doesn’t say it’s fun. But he gives us hope. He gives us a reason to rejoice. There is a purpose in what befalls us as believers. We are tested so our faith, “of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine.” (7) The word picture is fascinating.

We may not be familiar with refining gold through fire. The metal is heated in a pot until it’s a liquid so the refiner can skim off the bad stuff which rises to the top. The result is considered purified gold. God wants to skim off the bad stuff in our life. And the only way to do that is to put us to the test. Gold doesn’t stay in the pot once the yucky stuff is gone and God doesn’t leave us in the fire once we’ve been purified. Once taken from the pot gold must still be checked. Gold is checked by applying acid to determine the karat or purity of the refined gold. The acid test proves it’s genuine and not fool’s gold. Again, in verse 6 and 7:

1 Peter 1:6-9 (NIV)

6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

Genuine faith produces results. There are present results and eternal results. Our faith produces praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Who’s being praised, honored and glorified in this verse? It’s us! Yep, God’s children will receive praise, glory and honor at Christ’s return. This is the result of God’s refining fire. When Jesus Christ is revealed we will again greatly rejoice. Joy again and again weaves its way through our lives as Christians. Whether in trial or good times our focus should be the great joy we have in God. But, Peter says this proof of our faith will be evident when Christ is revealed. What do we do until then? Back to our passage . . .

1 Peter 1:6-9 (NIV)

6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, . . .

We love! We love Jesus. Do you see Jesus in the room? I don’t. I see his work in the faces and lives of His people. Unlike Peter who walked with our Lord, the readers of this letter never met Jesus face to face. Neither did you or me. But, I still love Him! I still believe in Him. Through the testing of our family this year I am filled with inexpressible and glorious joy as God proves my genuine faith.

I’m fascinated with the word “inexpressible.” It comes from the word for “unspeakable.” When we are true believers we hold within us a joy which we cannot express. We can’t shout it out because that would be insufficient. A smile just doesn’t carry the depth of our joy being held in God’s hands. No song, no matter how moving can touch the heart of our joy. It is beyond words, beyond expression, tied to the very heart and love of God.

We don’t see God now but we love Him. John writes about this in his first epistle.

2  Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3 Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure. (1 John 3:2-3 NIV)\

I don’t know about you but I look forward to that day. Still, in this day, at this time, the goal of my faith is being achieved. There are things I don’t have to wait for. Again in 1 Peter 1:

1 Peter 1:6-9 (NIV)

6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Salvation is not some future, mystical, promise but an ever-present reality. God is working in and through us today, at this moment, in this place. Where God’s children abide, Jesus is there. Listen carefully to Romans 6:22 and 23:

22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, {this is past tense, it happens at salvation} the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (NIV)

 To understand and live with an inexpressible joy we must be saved. We must accept the free gift of redemption Jesus purchased with His blood at the cross. Only through Jesus can any man approach God.

We may experience trials today but that is nothing compared to the future. Paul encouraged the Romans when he wrote, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 3:18 NIV) God has us in His hands and there we shall stay. Again, in Romans 8:35 Paul writes, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?” And the answer is found in verse 37; “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

As tested and proven genuine believers we have a reason to greatly rejoice today, at this moment, in this place. If you’re in a trial today take courage. It has an end and a purpose which will strengthen and purify your faith.

If you don’t know the love of God, the wonder of His love and grace, come to Him today that we may greatly rejoice together.

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Boys Will Be Boys

And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men. (Luke 2:52 WEB)

I think boys, compared to girls, are the least likely to ever grow up. Girls, on the one hand, start playing house, and other grown up stuff, early in life. Boys, on the other hand, just want to play, jump, run, scream, chase, break, toss and inflict themselves on the world around them. And as they grow older, they want to impress the girls with their ability to play, jump, run, scream, chase, break, toss and inflict themselves on the world around them. Most boys are pretty good at this approach to life. I know, I was one of them.

I also think boys are the same across all ages, cultures, and continents. Someone once said, “Give a boy a stick, a string, and a mud hole and he will be busy all day.” One of my favorite hobbies is watching children play. I’ve done this on several continents, in multiple cultures and countries. Girls, play with dolls, pretend they’re mommies, look cute, sweet and innocent. They bake cookies and offer gifts to others. Boys, are never so docile. They take their stick and smack the other boys and girls around them. Then, laughing, they run through the closest mud hole in their best pants. Finally, they use their string to creep up and capture some unsuspecting lizard to make it a pet. It may only be three inches long but it is a dragon in their mind.

John, Steve, Bob at Steve's wedding, CaliforniaIt doesn’t take much to spark the imagination of a young boy. Growing up with two older brothers, I was seldom at a loss for some lame brain idea to pass the day. While my brothers often broke things, usually themselves, I was a bit more cautious and survived youth with fewer scars and nothing broken. I took my share of risks. But I always watched my brothers make the mistake and then I tried to avoid them . . . the mistakes, not my brothers. I’m very grateful they paved the way, with their sweat and blood, so I could emerge from childhood with stories to tell and all limbs intact.

One morning it was warm, the sun was shining and it seemed as if spring might actually arrive. I stepped onto our balcony to survey my kingdom. To most people it looks like the parking lot of an apartment complex. But, to my mind, it’s my royal kingdom stretching across the plains of Burgenland to the foreign borders of Slovakia and Hungary. I took another sip of my royal coffee, there was a crown on the package of coffee grounds I used, I looked down into my asphalt garden and spied an interloper. There, coming from the upper grounds was a young man with a broken scooter. The handle was missing so it looked more like a skateboard than a modern scooter. I watched carefully to see if he intended to break any of the laws of the land. As the ruling monarch this was my responsibility.

The little ruffian rolled to a stop in front of a massive oak tree. There are two such trees which flank the entrance to my royal palace. I live on the top floor and have the best view, and the most stairs. When my children were younger I tried to get them to carry me up to stairs, like good sons should do for their monarch. They weren’t interested and even made some less than royal remarks. So much for absolute authority, and my aging knees.

The young man put one foot on the pavement to stop his rolling and slowly raised his eyes to survey the imposing tree in his path. I could almost hear his mind clanking away, devising some lame brain scheme that involved a tree, his youthful skills, recklessness, and a broken scooter.

He stood for a moment, giving me time to sip more of my royal blend. His head tilted to the left, then to the right. He placed his hands firmly on his waist revealing his sheer determination. The tree was something to be conquered, a castle wall to be breached, a tower to demand a view of the surrounding region. The top was in his sights.

This epitome of youth, striving to prove his manhood, stepped up to the trunk, stretched an arm to either side, placed one food on the wood and jumped. Three or four times, with different grips and alternating feet he attempted to shinny up the tree. Alas, the girth of the plant was more than his eight year old arms could handle. He stepped back, surveyed the tree once more and his eyes sparkled with another idea.

Standing about three feet tall it was obvious, to me, there was no way to reach the first branch jutting out about fifteen feet above the ground. But boys are boys. Everything is there to be conquered, jumped on, chased, tossed or inflicted with their presence. He was not going to give up easily to this immobile protrusion from the soil.

He picked up the broken scooter and placed it against the tree. Sideways as first which did little to increase his vertical advantage. Then he turned it on the end adding another foot or more to his height. He placed one foot on the upper edge, flung his arms wide in anticipation and launched himself at the tree once more.

He bounced off the wood onto his backside and found himself lying on the ground looking into the outstretched arms of his foe. That must have hurt! I struggled not to laugh and spoil the moment. Now boys are reckless, adventuresome and often foolhardy, but, they do eventually learn from their mistakes, which they call valiant attempts.

It took a few more tries, leaving his face print on the bark, before the light dawned. It just wasn’t going to happen today. With resolute determination to come back, maybe when he was older and taller, he put the scooter back on the ground, planted one foot in the center and pushed off up the hill. There had to be a mud hole around somewhere to sooth his spirits.

As I stepped inside, for another royal cup of java, I thought of the many times I hopelessly attempted some grand scheme in life. It was the adventure, the possibility of success which drove me onward.

We do the same thing in our Christian walk. We see something we want to conquer and go at it with all our might. God looks down, chuckles and watches as we struggle and learn. He knows what its like.

When He was incarnate, as a young boy, he learned about climbing trees, skipping rocks on a lake and finding a mud puddle to play in. He understands our desire to shinny up a tree too big for our scrawny arms. His memory is perfect. So His Holy Spirit is here, beside us, cheering us on. He then reaches over and teaches us something new. He shows us our strengths and our weaknesses and we eventually learn. Even those who are still young boys at heart.

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Pohnpei Honor

Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and in teaching. (1 Timothy 5:17 WEB)

As a teacher at the Summer Institute for Pastors held on the island of Pohnpei, I was considered an honored guest by the islanders and the students at the seminars. Sometimes it can be a lot of fun to discover new traditions in new cultures. Discovering I was in a position of honor was unique. I didn’t know how unique until the last day of the seminary. The day a teacher departed was a day of celebration with gifts given and honor shown to the departing teacher.

There were many “Thank you” and “Please come back” comments. During my two weeks of teaching we developed a bond between cultures founded on the Word of God and our faith. A number of island crafts were given to remind me of my time in their midst. One gentle servant of God presented me with a hand carved wooden fish. The surface was carefully smoothed by brush strokes from a palm branch. Still others presented necklaces of sea shells and other items they valued in their homes.

One woman soaked a fragile handmade headdress of flowers in perfume all night to place on my head and show honor to her teacher. The wave of perfume rolling down my face was almost suffocating but I dare not remove such a show of distinction. Another loving student created similarly fragranced lei from the luscious island flowers.

After all the goodbyes, thanks and a time of food and fellowship I was placed in the back of a pickup truck. I leaned into the wind as they drove around the city and surrounding village. I was on display so all could see the teacher who came to help them learn more about God and how to serve him. Needless to say I was a touch and embarrassed by all the attention. I only came to the island to serve God with the gifts He gave me. This demonstration I wasn’t expecting.

The pickup trip ended at the airport where all the students, friends and other curious islanders, watched until I climbed the stairs of the airplane and it took off toward my home on Guam. I watched them gathered at the runway fence smiling and waving until we were out of sight. As I sat back I was thankful for the overpowering fragrance of the flowers. A number of passengers, all from a tropical island, added to the airplane’s internal smell and it wasn’t good. Here was a small blessing in the form of fragrant flowers.

As I climbed off the plane Beth had the most unusual look on her face. I forgot about the leis and crown of flowers on my head during the flight. I think seeing her husband with a flower wreath on his head and shell necklaces was more than she expected. It was something new to remember.

I went to fulfill God’s call to teach and train others in the Word of God. I received a training course in cultural integration and cooperation. It wasn’t what I expected but exactly what God knew I needed. It’s nice when we can look back on obedience and see God’s hand in the results complete with flowers and fish.

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Pohnpei Preaching

preach the word; be urgent in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with all patience and teaching. (2 Timothy 4:2 WEB)

I once spent two weeks on the island of Pohnpei teaching at the Summer Institute for Pastors. The second Sunday I was asked to attend the local church and present the sermon from God’s Word. This was an honor and I was thrilled with the opportunity.

After a little discussion with my teaching colleague I discovered there were certain rules concerning preachers in the local Baptist church. First I needed to wear a tie. This was the first problem.

After living on Guam for many years, I no longer owned a tie much less an appropriate shirt for a tie. Traveling about the islands my wardrobe consisted of colorful, flowered, island shirts and the occasional formal Filipino Barang. Discussing this island wardrobe with my colleague, from Chicago, the land of suits, ties and fancy dress, he looked in his room and brought out a nice tie I could borrow. When he saw the shirt, it was intended to adorn, he just shook his head and wandered away mumbling something about the island lifestyle versus good Christian tradition. I held the two up in a mirror and thought, cool! But somehow I doubted my wife would agree. Her sense of fashion was much better than mine. She had great sense. I didn’t, and still don’t.

So on Sunday morning I put on my best flowered shirt and donned the requisite tie for the service. It would have made a fashion statement anywhere in the world, maybe not a good fashion statement but a statement none-the-less. An hour before the service my ride arrived in the form of a pickup truck, loaded with the driver’s wife and mother-in-law.

On Pohnpei a pickup truck is considered a family vehicle, something to be treasured. Men are also to be treasured and, unfortunately, considered of more value than women. Thus the wife and grandmother were required to sit in the back of the truck while I was motioned to sit up front with the driver. I try not to make cultural waves when I travel. Watching grandma, not a young lady, creak out of the cab and start to climb into the back of the truck, I just couldn’t keep quiet. After a few minutes of discussion, and insisting on my love for a good open breeze, the wife, not the aged grandmother, was installed inside the cab while I rode in the back of the truck. Grandma and I had a great view, and cool breeze as we bumped and jostled our way along toward the inner part of the island. Considering the heat and lack of air-conditioning, it was probably the coolest place in the vehicle.

Down dirt roads, up the side of a mountain, we arrived at the concrete church and were greeted by the elders of the church. They were excited about the morning service and people could be seen arriving in the occasional pickup truck but mostly on foot. I joined the church leaders in a prayer meeting in preparation for the service. We asked God to bless the meeting, guide me to say the right words, and to touch the heart of someone new that morning. The prayer ended so we had time to chat. While talking and waiting for the prescribed time the head elder turned and asked, “Where is you jacket?”

“Jacket?” I asked, “What jacket?”

“The preacher must wear a jacket,” replied the Pastor with a knowing nod of his head.

“It is tradition in the church from the time the first missionaries came to our island,” responded the sincere Elder. He was concerned their guest speaker, me, was underdressed.

I told them I didn’t own a suit coat or sports jacket. I liked the island lifestyle and clothing. After a few moments of consternation and a few wagging heads, one elder jumped, smiled at the rest and went to a cabinet in the open air room. Proudly, he pulled a wool suit coat from the closet which, unfortunately, fit over my shoulders. I was obliged to adhere to their traditions. I donned the hot and itchy coat and we headed into the church.

The singing was impressive, the enthusiasm evident and the room hot. I was starting to understand the feelings of a log on an open fire. No fans, no air-conditioning, no breeze worked to accentuate the warmth of my wool coat. This was not going to be easy.

I opened my Bible and began to preach. For the next forty minutes I shared the word of God. I had to stand arm’s length from the pulpit to keep from dripping on my notes. The pages of my Bible began to curl from all the dripping perspiration.

Just before I reached the flashpoint of the human body, I apologized, turned to the Elders, and asked if I could remove my jacket. I was about to faint. They looked at each other, mumbled a few words, shook a few heads, and then agreed it was permissible. I continued the service cooled by the evaporating moisture in my drenched clothes. I was a human swamp cooler.

Tired, dried out and ready to sit down I concluded my message. I asked if anyone was interested in coming forward for salvation, dedication, or prayer. Praise the Lord the message was well received. A couple people came forward for prayer.

I returned the wool coat to its treasured closet and thought about the first messengers of the Gospel coming to the island. I wonder about the wisdom of some early missionaries. Insisting a tropical island don their attire was silly then and is silly now. Clothes don’t make the believer, it is their relationship with God. Granted there are times we must all get uncomfortable to be God’s servants. This wasn’t one of them. Sometimes we must get uncomfortable because those before us set an unusual example. What examples are we leaving in our wake? Will future servants of God be glad we passed through or wonder about our sanity. Maybe its time to take a little survey and see where our traditions just might be altered for the present and future generation of Christians.

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Flat Roofs

“When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, that you may not bring the guilt of blood upon your house, if anyone should fall from it.” (Deuteronomy 22:8 ESV)

Our daughter Ellice started first grade on Guam and continued in the second grade during our first furlough. We enrolled her in the J.L. Mudd Elementary School. I suppose Mr. Mudd was a famous person but the name always struck me as funny.

The process was simple and she joined other young girls and boys to learn about reading, writing, and arithmetic. (How do you get the Three Rs with one “R,” a “W” and an “A?”) The school was not far from our furlough home but she rode a bus each day.

One day we received a note from her teacher. The teacher requested a conference to discuss our darling daughter. Ellice was strong willed but loved school and having fun. Her grades were just fine and she appeared to get along well with the other children in the neighborhood. We were curious why we needed a conference. I unfortunately had a schedule to keep so Beth met with the teacher.

The teacher was careful to choose her words. To soften the obvious bad news she first commended Ellice on her good spirit and good grades. She was doing well with the other students. The problem was her perceptions of reality. The results of our daughter’s drawing class revealed Ellice might need psychological help.

The teacher continued to explain the situation. There was a drawing assignment. Ellice was to draw a simple house with trees representing her real home. Searching through her desk drawer the teacher withdrew Ellice’s work and placed it on the desk.

“It’s obvious,” stated the teacher using tones of concern and an air of authority, “Ellice doesn’t have a complete grasp on reality.”

Pointing out details of the drawing she continued, “Here we have a house with a flat roof and the trees are inside out. We both know,” she continued indicating it was a well established fact, “houses have pointed roofs and trees are pine or leafy trees. It seems Ellice has conceptual problems.”

Beth looked at the drawing, looked at the teacher and almost laughed out loud. Ellice drew a perfectly good representation of our home on Guam. We have flat roofs on Guam. We have palm trees in our yard which look like inside out trees. Beth explained this difference and that Ellice was well aware of how our house looked. The teacher was both surprised and amazed.

The teacher’s understanding of the world was limited by her limited experience and she had not considered Ellice’s background during the evaluation. This was not the first time such misunderstandings would occur in the life of our children. The remainder of her time at J.L. Mudd was great.

Just like our daughter we’re not always understood. Sometimes as Christians we assume people understand our point of view, our background. Misunderstandings quickly develop and people can get offended. It’s important to sometimes explain the parapet on our roof or the palm tree in our yard. It’s sometimes necessary to open our own eyes to see the palm tree in the yard of someone else.

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