Tag Archives: Grace

Don’t Whack the Weeds

But he said, ‘No, since in gathering the weeds you may uproot the wheat with them.’ (Matthew 13:29 NET)

Each time I read through Scripture I’m amazed at what God brings to my attention. Things which I’ve read many times will sometimes jump out like they’ve never been there before. I had that experience the other evening while reading through Matthew. I read the parable of the wheat and the weeds like I have many times before. I stopped to ask myself, “What was Jesus telling us in this short tale?” The funny thing is Jesus gives an explanation.

The more I thought about it the more I realized I couldn’t remember a single sermon I’d heard on this parable. I’m sure it was mentioned somewhere but apparently not noteworthy enough for me to remember. Often this is tied in with sending more workers into the fields but I see here an accurate description of the world, including the church and dealing with the evil which invades.

For some reason, Christians feel they need to cast their eyes across the world looking for weeds. We think these insidious plants, when found, need to be either converted into proper wheat or culturally eradicated by insuring they behave and look like wheat. Granted these damaging weeds are taking up some of the nutrients, water, and soil space that could otherwise be used by the wheat. It makes sense to us to remove the items which hinder proper growth of the wheat. But Jesus has a different approach in mind.
20061007_220943000_iOS

Instead of weeding out the invaders Jesus says leave them where they are. Allow them to receive the same fertilizer, water, and care as the remainder of the wheat field. Now why would we leave them there? The Lord makes it clear that their removal would cause damage to the faithful wheat in the process of eradication. Apparently, we’re not very good as farmers in this process. It’s only when they’re harvested together that they can be properly separated without damage. So, the separation of the faithful and unbeliever is left to the final harvest by the reapers (angels). Only then will the true wheat shine in God’s kingdom.

I think of the damage done to the body of Christ by overzealous believers who take their understanding of God’s righteousness and attempt to forcefully weed out the evil in the world. They’re trying to pull up the weeds while their roots are still intertwined with the believer’s. I’m not discounting our call to exercise proper discipline within the church as Paul expressed to the Corinthians. After his call to expel the sinner from their midst he writes back and tempers his harsh commands in order that they show forgiveness and care so they do not cause excessive sorrow.

I also understand the admonition not to associate with those known for their flagrant sinful behavior within the church. But weeding goes directly to the destruction of the sinner and indirectly to the detriment of the faithful as our roots are intertwined. One cannot be ripped from the ground without damaging the other. Sinners are as common in a sinful world as weeds are in the wheat field. Regardless of what we try to tell ourselves we’re intertwined in a way that cannot be undone until the final harvest.

As tenders of the field we need to insure the nutrients of God’s grace, love and care are sowed throughout the field regardless of the plant. I’m convinced God won’t run out of fertilizer this side of eternity. Then we can allow God’s angels to harvest the field and separate the good from the bad. They know how to do this without irreparable damage to the plant, apparently, something we don’t do very well. We need to stop whacking at the weeds and aerate the soil with God’s grace and love. As missionaries and pastors this is our calling. Cultivate the field. The harvest we leave up to the one who knows how to save the good and toss out the bad, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Leave a comment

Filed under Missions

Emergency Baptism

. . . one Lord, one faith, one baptism, . . .  (Ephesians 4:5 NET)

One year I was able to experience a first in my ministry. I performed my first Bathtub baptism. Normally baptisms for our church in Vienna were held at the Old Danube river. We even had one scheduled that summer with a number of people on the list to publicly declare their faith in Christ. So you might wonder why baptize someone in a bathtub when we had one scheduled at the river.  (I’m tempted to start singing Shall We Gather at The River.)

Baptism in the Alte Donau

A new believer declaring their faith in Christ.

This what we call an “Emergency Baptism.” I know, that sounds weird. You might wonder if the person was about to die of some dread disease? No. But time was limited. This person came to us through the son of their best friend who happened to be in Austria. The young man put them in contact with our church through one of our ministry folks.

The candidate was in town for only few days and wanted to be baptized. They would be headed back to their home country in only three days. Theo, one of our other elders, and I talked and decided we could use the bathtub of one of the ministry folks. The bonus would be that they could also provide translation from the candidate’s native language into either German or English. It was into German :-).

We arranged to meet the candidate at this gentleman’s home and talk. If things went well, if we were assured of the candidate’s faith, we would proceed. Fortunately for me, the candidate spoke a modicum on English making things a little easier. We listened to the story of living in a country and a culture inundated and controlled by another religion. As a child the candidate heard about Christianity from some family and friends who were Christians. But, there was no gathering where they could learn more.

You see, such a gathering, when the candidate was young, and still today, was and is forbidden. There are believers in the country but unless their spouse, or close friend, is also a believer they live as an island in a dangerous land. This is learning to lean on God and God alone. After growing up and a failed marriage the candidate realized their cultural religion didn’t work. There were too many things which seemed contrary to living and there was no hope. The candidate remembered what they heard as a child and started seeking this Christian God.

To make a long story short the candidate came to salvation several years before. They met and married someone who is also a believer. The candidate’s visit to Austria was short and they wanted to be baptized before returning. Gathering as believers for church, worship, bible study was and is forbidden in her homeland. Baptism was and is also forbidden. The candidate wanted to make a declaration among witnesses of their faith in Christ and their desire to live faithfully for him. This was their one big chance.

We listened to the story, with many more details and knew the candidate was part of God’s family. The tub was filled with warm water (a definite improvement over the cold Danube). We gathered in the bathroom, those of us who could fit. Imagine six people with a bathtub in a room the size of a coat closet.

The candidate sat in the tub scrunched to one end. We asked a few questions and they made a declaration of their faith in front of the witnesses. Then back the candidate went, under the water. With praise in our hearts and on our lips, a new family member rose out of the water declaring to the world, to their homeland, to their past culture and religion, they are now and forever will be a child of God. They were saved by God’s grace through Christ’s blood. We’re talking big smiles and excitement.

This was a testimony to God’s work even in the face of cultural and national adversity. (I think this is the first baptism where I didn’t get soaked :-). I’m thrilled to provide them the opportunity to declare before witnesses their faith. I hope one day we’ll have the chance to baptize their spouse as well.

As I wrote this this new family member was back in their homeland, living in a land diametrically opposed to their faith but assured of God’s grace and strength. Pray for their walk with God, strength when opposition comes, and assurance of God’s constant presence.

God is amazing. We sometimes just need to be reminded through the testimony of others.

Leave a comment

Filed under Missions

Light in Darkness

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness hasn’t overcome it. (John 1:4-5 WEB) 

I, Beth, know there’s debate about when to celebrate Christmas. I don’t know all of the scholarly research and although I haven’t read all of it I must say I am thankful for the choice of December 25th. I’ve read that part of the reason for picking December 25th was because of the darkness and winter solstice. 

For fourteen years our family lived on the island of Guam. Bobbing around the ocean at thirteen degrees north of the equator, Guam was wonderful with plenty of sunshine and summer weather all year round. Each December we gathered at the beach to celebrated

Christmas with snorkeling and a barbecue. With copious sunshine, and sometimes forgotten sunscreen, tropical winters gave a whole new meaning to Santa’s red suit! We were soon use to the warm winter weather of the tropics. However, things change. Jingle Bells, Coconut Shells, Santa ‘s coming now

Instead of driving eight reindeer he rides a caribou!

The next assignment, with the mission, saw our family move to Vienna, Austria, forty-eight degrees north of the equator. That put an end to the tropical winters and December barbecues on the beach. We traded our flip-flops in for furry warm boots, our t-shirts for sweaters, and our raincoats for thick warm jackets. Instead of snorkeling in December we made snow men and battled the world with snowballs.

Sunburned noses were replaced by cold winter red noses. It became a new lifestyle with new traditions. As our first November in Austria rolled around we experienced seasonal changes and a lack of sunshine. Not just sunshine, but daylight appeared to disappear.

It’s amazing what you forget when you live one place long enough. You know this, as do I, but the implications didn’t fully sink in for a while. One thing I forgot was the darkness of the winter months.

I grew up in Maine and upstate New York. I realize some people object to Christmas being celebrated around the winter solstice and its possible relationship to pagan rituals. Still, I again say, I am thankful! When it is darkest and the days are the shortest I can understand “light in darkness” better. It lifts my spirits greatly.

When Jesus walked the earth His light was so different many didn’t believe but shielded their eyes. They were familiar with the darkness. Even today, when people see what Jesus’ light reveals, people turn their heads so they don’t have to look. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Those who lived in the land of the shadow of death, on them the light has shined.” (Isaiah 9:2 WEB)

Believers, when they are in the midst of trials, search for the light. Once you have experienced long, consistent, days of light a shorter day seems oppressively dark. When a believer finds himself in the darkness his love for the light of God takes on a more profound understanding.

Praise the Lord for Christ’s birth, the Word incarnate. In the short days, in the long darkness of winter, I am reminded and reflect more on the sacrifice of God in sending His Son. When darkness is greater than light I’m anxious for each bit of light, each ray of sunshine, I can find in a day. When the darkness rolls away I thank God again for His love. Of course this awe and celebration and worship can happen all year and anytime we reflect on His saving power!

Again I rejoice! In our home we celebrate with colored lights, candles, decorations, warmth and family at the darkest time of my year. We get up in the dark and it gets dark early. When the winter darkness is here we have lots of snow and fog. We seldom see the sun. I am glad the celebration of light in darkness is shown clearly in my roots and traditions with colored lights, candles, decorations, warmth and family to celebrate! How do you celebrate in the darkness? Do you see the light shining?

Again, therefore, Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12 WEB)

Leave a comment

Filed under Missions

Flea Markets

For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18)

Garage sales, yard Sales, I never understood those terms. No one was selling their garage or their yard. Then there was the flea market. Fleas? For sale? Couldn’t be! No one would buy someone else’s mangy fleas. Where did they collect them? From their dogs? Cats? Hamsters? None of it made sense. But, they were popular as I was growing up.

I’m an adult now. Sometimes, my wife says I still act like a child. Gray hair helps with the illusion that I’m an adult. At least I now understand what a flea market is. I can be taught. I can even be cajoled into visiting a flea market, garage sale, yard sale or whatever the local population wants to name it. Sometimes I even buy a odd object.

The other day some friends took us to a large flea market in Ohio. Rows and rows of outdoor booths displayed their junk hoping it’d become our treasure. Inside, yes there were permanent indoor booths, the smorgasbord of old and new could keep a bargain hunter drooling for hours. I didn’t buy anything.

My interested drops after the first twenty or more booths but Beth can dig through stuff for hours. Strolling along the hallway I came across a food court. That might be an overstatement for two hot dog stands and a few tables. In the corner a band was forming.

arm34Folks brought their instruments, opened their cases on the tables and floor and tuned up. It didn’t appear to have any organizer, just talented country folk gathering to share music with one another. As a passerby I was treated to a musical delight. Good, simple, gospel and bluegrass music filled the room. This could make a flea market worth visiting.

Eleven musicians, mostly gray haired, played a combination of three banjos, a slide dobro guitar, a fiddle (country name for violin) and a host of guitars. They sang, they played, they had fun and so did I. One older couple put on their tap shoes and danced between the tables to the foot stomping music.

People couldn’t help but smile, tap their foot and enjoy. It was freely given and gratefully accepted. No one complained. Some songs were known by all, others by just a few. I kept watching the guitar players to see what chords were being used. There were three, with the occasional, unexpected, fourth derivation.

I suppose that is what I like about folk music and bluegrass. It’s simple. It pulls you in with natural melody and harmony. If you’re a musician the limited chord structure makes it easy to join in and enjoy.

A little girl, about three or four, stood, watched, bounced, smiled and delighted herself with the music. Musicians came and went as time and energy allowed. The band waned and swelled as the morning wore on. Eventually the musicians wandered off, a couple at a time until the room was left with the murmuring of shoppers discussing their discoveries.

God’s message of salvation is as comfortable as a good gospel song or bluegrass melody to those who are being saved. But to those lost it’s as grating as a praise song to a hard rock enthusiast. It’s as simple as three chords, Christ died, Christ was buried, Christ arose to bear the cost of our sins and break the bonds of death. But some can’t see this, they are blinded to God’s love and grace.

The flea market band didn’t know who would love their music and who would walk on by but, they played on. Sharing the Gospel message we don’t know who will love the melody or whose ears will be closed tight. Still, we need to play on, to keep presenting the message. We need to be sure those who are ready can hear and tap their foot to the heavenly melody.

Leave a comment

Filed under Missions

The Narrow Path

“For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:14 NASB)

 Once in a while Beth and I had the chance to show off the streets and landmarks of Vienna. After our arrival we enjoyed wandering the streets and small byways to discover hidden parts of that fascinating city. The history, stories of wars, rulers, plagues and Christianity were fascinating.

One day we once again wore our feet to a frazzle. A visitor from the USA wanted to fill a couple hours with a tour of the city before heading off to the airport. Camera in hand we started in the center, at Stephan’s Dom, and worked our way out, across and around the center of the city. Along the Graben, up Kohlmarkt, through the Hofburg, by the Parliament and Rathaus we explained each building and what history we could remember.

Tourists lined the streets and flashed photos of bits and pieces of history and studied their maps carefully. You can usually tell Americans are nearby. They have a tendency to be very boisterous and excited about the sights, sounds and smells they experience. After you’ve lived there for a while you start telling your visitors to shush, or talk softly.

Hofburg Vienna

Hofburg Vienna

At the archaeological ruins we overhead some Americans trying to figure which way to go. I offered to help and explained how to traverse the winding streets to their destination. I’m sure everyone in the square could hear their questions and their shouts of thanks when they walked off into the distance.

A little tired and hungry we worked our way over for lunch at a cozy restaurant with an entertaining corner view and good food. The cushioned seats provided a respite for our tired feet and a refreshing meal. The German speaking waitress, from Russia, served us in record time. I went back later and found the restaurant out of business.

Ready to tackle a little more of the city we wove our way through the narrow passage by the Greek Church. Up the stairs is an ornate church beside one of the historic restaurants of the city. Mark Twain loved to visit Vienna and frequented this out of the way eatery. If you don’t know the city you can walk all around and never know it’s there with all its delicacies. We ate there once. Mark Twain wasn’t there but the food was good.

It’s the same way with life. We search here and there to find something of value. We read the rambling theology of men and women. We trudge along the highway, lined with tomes dedicated to explaining God’s message to the world, and miss the narrow country road. We’re looking for a highway with big signs and lights. What we need is a narrow passage with a simple sign, salvation.

Many visitors crisscross Vienna and fail to discover that historic restaurant and church. An abundant number of feet have been wearied without noticing beautiful artwork and statues hidden away in the narrow passages. When we visited these areas we didn’t see many tourists but we enjoyed the beauty. The beauty of Vienna wasn’t found on Kärntner Straße, with the modern facades and stores, but in the small alleys and passageways.

Salvation is a gift of God’s grace to a world in need. It’s not found in the popular theology of the day but in the narrow words of Scripture. It’s here we read Job’s confession of understanding and repentance. It’s the Shepherd we discover in a small Psalm of comfort. It was in the narrow cells of a prison that a guard discovered the wonder of faith and praise.

We try to be broad minded but the message is narrow minded. We want to be all encompassing but those who understand are few. It’s a contradiction. God wants all men to be saved but only a small number will come. It’s the grace of God, the call of a father to his children, that single recognizable voice, which reaches our heart and brings us home.

Let’s stop trying to make a foot path into a highway. Preach the word clearly, the narrow message, so those who are searching will find the path. Only a guide who has already discovered the path can show others the way.

Leave a comment

Filed under Missions

Baptism – 067

Go, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (Matthew 28:19 WEB)

 

Baptism is a subject which can divide churches from one another. Every church has something to say on interpreting the meaning, method and application of Baptism. I don’t like to debate issues such as Baptism. I don’t like to debate many religious issues because religion cannot bring salvation. Religion is a set of rules, created by man, to define the confines of their faith in human terms easier to understand. My concern is whether someone has turned to God through the saving grace of the cross and entered into the heavenly family for eternity.

As parents this was a heart concern. We desired each of our children to understand our faith, God’s grace and the salvation offered from the cross. To see our children cleansed by the blood of Christ and know we will be with them for eternity was a major concern.

For years we dedicated our lives to serving God and brought this message of salvation to a lost world. It was just as important to see the lost world within our own home and insure they too heard the Gospel message.

I fear, and sometimes this fear is confirmed, we spend so much time concentrating on reaching the world that our global vision doesn’t include our own home. I’m reminded of Paul writing to Timothy when he says, “But if anyone doesn’t provide for his own, and especially his own household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Timothy 5:8 WEB) We read testimonies of pastors and Christian workers discovering, after many years of fruitful service, they’ve neglected their own families. I wish I could saw I was always properly balanced between family and ministry, but I can’t.

Sometimes I got so involved in a project that home became a place to eat, sleep and have my laundry done. The longer I spent in ministry, the older I got, the more I recognized the need to give as much attention to the spiritual growth and relationship of my family as I gave to reaching others with the Gospel. At times I was successful. Other times, I was not.

After twenty plus years of overseas ministry I was thrilled to know all my children came to the Lord’s throne of grace. Each of our children gave their lives to the Lord. Each of our children were baptized.

On Guam baptisms were held in the ocean. We said we had the largest baptistery in the world. Several times a year, since it was always warm, our church held baptism services after the Sunday services.

We’d gather together outside the church and form a caravan of trucks, cars and vans to drive to hotel row and find parking near Tumon Bay. With a portable sound system each candidate would share their testimony with the church and any interested beach combers. When the testimonies were complete, the pastor, and those to be baptized, entered the water and the ceremony commenced.

Wind surfers, snorkelers, sun bathers, and other tourists watched and wondered. We were ready with tracts to hand out and willing to talk with anyone interested in the Gospel being brought to life in the baptism. More than once a curious bystander saw the baptism then came to church and the Lord lead them to salvation. The circle was completed as they returned to the same beach to be baptized as a witness to another bystander.

In Vienna baptisms were a bit different. Since our church rented space at the YMCA we didn’t have a baptistery. During the summer, since it was cold in winter, a baptism would be scheduled on a beach at the Alte Donau (Old Danube). This was a big event.

Food was prepared, brought to the beach and a large table covered with numerous delicacies from the variety of countries represented in our church. We gathered, ate, sang and the candidates shared their testimonies. When others at the beach noticed the food table they were invited to join in the celebration. This was a chance to minister to people who might never step foot in our church services.

Singing and testimonies complete, we gathered at the river, no pun intended, and each person was baptized. Between baptisms we sang a rousing chorus of celebration. People gathered from all along the beach to see what was happening and ask questions.

One year, a man who had witnessed the baptism the previous year, came and spoke with our Elders. In the intervening year he too gave his life to Christ and desired baptism. After an interview on the beach he joined others from our church to celebrate his new life in Christ.

In the ocean, in a river, in a baptistery, a pool or a bath tub, yes we have seen that as well, each of these people were willing to proclaim, to the world, their faith in Christ. I grew up watching people baptized in the safe confines of the church. This is definitely an encouragement to the body of believers.

On the mission field I was introduced to public baptism. This was an encouragement and witness to the dying. Watching our children be baptized was an encouragement to us as parents.

Instead of arguing over the methods maybe it’s time we concentrated on the witness of baptism to the world around us. With a little attention to this detail we might lead others to God’s throne and need more baptisms. I’m just wondering . . .

Leave a comment

Filed under Missions

All In the Family – 061

He made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the surface of the earth, having determined appointed seasons, and the boundaries of their dwellings, (Acts 17:26 WEB)

Before we started our second furlough arrangements were made with our home office in New Jersey. The last time we had visited the headquarters of the mission was in 1980 when we were appointed as missionaries. Thus our leadership felt it was time we stopped by to reintroduce ourselves to the staff. With this in mind our second stop, after some time in California, was New Jersey. This was the land of Beth’s birth and a number of her relatives!

Beth and I were married in 1974. On the day of our wedding some of her relatives from New Jersey came to join us in the celebration. Here was my chance to renew acquaintances and discover new relatives, on my wife’s side of the family.

Borrowing a car from someone in the mission we navigated through the confusing streets of New Jersey to the house of Beth’s Aunt Ruth. Her home was a mere fifty feet from a major highway which they called a parkway. Since it was against the law to park on the parkway I was always confused by why they called it a parkway. In this small house, filled to overflowing with memories, I was introduced to close and distant relatives living in the general vicinity.

I once commented to my children that I was experienced in dealing with cross cultural marriages. Beth was a Yankee and I was a good old southern boy. Meeting her family confirmed we were definitely from different worlds.

The conversations covered a myriad of topics. At times I felt they were speaking a different language as they recalled events of their youth and the wonders of the region of their heritage. The children were a continued source of entertainment as well as a bit of anxiety as we wondered if they would knock over a valued family treasure in the crowded house.

I’m an avid believer in Manifest Destiny. If things get crowded then head west and find some breathing room. Aunt Ruth was delightful and the food delicious. The house was crowded bringing dreams of wide open spaces to mind.

Once I became accustomed to the close quarters, something I would call upon years later in Europe, I was able to learn more about Beth’s past and northern culture. Talking to Aunts, Uncles, Cousins and visitors provided a great wealth of understanding and information on the family I married.

These were great folks, loving, caring, and willing to help when and where they were able. Because of one person, Beth, we were related and a bond of friendship and care existed. I’ve seen similar relationships develop in the body of Christ.

When we understand God’s love and grace we come to Him, through Christ, to receive salvation and the promise of eternal life. But, we have eternal life with whom? It’s eternal life with God. Not only is it eternal life with God but with God’s people as well.

God’s people come from every walk of life you can imagine, some are even Yankees! People from every culture and government you can imagine will be represented in the eternal community. We will all be related through the one who shed his blood for us, Jesus Christ. Then we’ll understand the true meaning of cross cultural and the complete relationship we have in God through Jesus.

Leave a comment

Filed under Missions