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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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Tasting Tea

I am the vine. You are the branches. He who remains in me, and I in him, the same bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5 WEB)

Although my parents drank coffee I avoided that delicacy for many years. Finally, at twenty years of age I took my first sip and it was awful. I was working in a hospital in Florida and entered the world of coffee as a reaction to the stress. My work with often terminally ill children was counteracted by the effects of the caffeine.

Although I continue to enjoy my daily coffee I’ve also developed a love for tea. According to popular belief it’s better for you. I’m sure my British colleagues would argue it’s God’s gift for afternoon tea time. I’m not interested in the health issue just good taste. I appreciate the wonders of Viennese coffee as well as a wide variety of teas.

During a visit to Sri Lanka there was some spare time between projects. With my eyes closed to the dangers of the fast driving, crowded roads and suicidal tendencies of motorists we rode from Colombo to the village of Kandy. We enjoyed a leisurely lunch in the cooler climate with a wonderful view and then we headed back down the mountain toward Colombo. Along the way we decided it would be fun to visit a tea farm.

I’m not sure if they call it a farm or factory but it was along the way. Earlier we passed the gates to the factory as the workers, hundreds of them, arrived on foot. Many were elderly women, some young men, some dressed in business attire while others arrived in country clothes.

We entered the gates, passed the guard house and stopped by the central preparation building. The tour was straight forward beginning in the drying room, then the rolling (cutting) room, the roasting room and finally the separating room.

Fresh leaves only from the top of the bush were picked each day by the ladies. They were then deposited in the drying rack, along with anything else that happened to jump in their basket. There, forced air dried the leaves until they were ready for processing. Once dried the leaves were gathered from the drying bin, tossed on the floor and shoved through a trap door to the floor below.

On the lower floor the leaves went through a series of rolling machines designed to separate them by size and value. Each machine rolled the leaves and dumped the separated piles on the floor. The leaves were scooped up in shovels and tossed onto the roasting machine. When the roasting was complete they were once more deposited on the floor.

The final separation process again dumped the results in piles on the concrete floor. From there the prepared tea was shoveled into bags for packaging and sale. It’s interesting to note the staff members tending this process, mostly women, wandered about the factory in bare feet. I suppose they didn’t want the tea leaves spoiled by their shoes!

We exited the factory and stopped by the little in-house shop. In various bins they had tea available from $10 to $500 per kilo. I purchased a small amount of the cheap stuff, took it back to Guam and brewed it up. With my first sip the hair on my head, what little there was, stood on end, it was so strong!

I found the process fascinating, simple and almost primitive. With the exception of the giant rolling machines, most of the labor was done by hand. A friend in Austria read a report on the contents found in tea bags, including grasshopper legs, and still he continued to enjoy the brew. I was a little dubious at first, then figured I couldn’t see all the foot prints, the leftover grasshopper legs, or other articles collected from the bushes. Maybe that’s why so much tea is hidden in little packets.

I looked back at my life and thought, “This is how God prepares us.” God rolls us to separate the wheat from the chaff. This process is repeated again and again to prepare us to minister for Him. Those who listen to our testimony, sermons, bible studies, don’t know all the times we’ve fallen on the floor after God pruned our life. It doesn’t matter. What matters is the final product. After we fall God picks us up, and prepares us for the next step in our walk with Him.

When we begin to concentrate on the areas in life where we’ve failed we become crippled. Like pausing to drink tea after watching it fall on the foot trodden floor over and over again, we sometimes spend too much time looking back and not forward to the Lord.

I am reminded of what Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Brothers, I don’t regard myself as yet having taken hold, but one thing I do. Forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13 14 WEB)

Let’s look forward to eternity in heaven with the Lord. That’s what matters in the end, not the past. There will be wonder in walking with the Lord in the new Heaven and Earth knowing the rolling process is over. Now that will be a good cup of tea.

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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.

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High Tech Invasion

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalms 46:10 WEB)
During deputation we were thrilled to use some high tech tools. A carousel projector for slides, a cassette player for audio, and foam boards for pictures about the ministry were regular parts of sharing the ministry. We were at the cutting edge of missionary presentations . . . at least for the 1980s.
Arriving on the mission field I used our portable typewriter to maintain communications with family, friends, and supporters in the USA. Postal mail was slow but it worked great. Evenings were regularly set aside and I would take over the dining room table. I’d place the typewriter on the table surrounded by paper, envelopes and a list of addresses. Photos were reduced to verbal descriptions as we shared our ministry. Purchasing multiple prints was too expensive.
There is a great feeling of achievement writing a letter by hand and sharing our thoughts and God’s work with others. The handwriting portion didn’t work well for me. My handwriting is awful. Occasionally I write a note to myself which I puzzle over for days to remember what it says. I kept a journal at times and find it difficult to read as I go back through the pages. The typewriter was my salvation, on the human writing a letter level, not the spiritual level.
Typewriters, unfortunately, soon became yesterday’s technology in the USA and even on the mission field. In the early 1980s the personal computer began its invasion of the office and eventually the home. Our first computer was sent as a gift from a supporter in the USA. The Heathkit H- 89 was a monster by today’s standards and a marvel in its day. With 16 Megabytes of memory, 90 kilobyte hard sectored single-sided floppies and a built in monitor it was a self-contained miracle. If there was a hardware problem I could find the individual chip and replace it.
After receiving this modern device I wrote a letter to our friend in thanks. Several months later he sent a letter asking if it was received. I replied again the computer was received and living well on my desk at home. A year later my original letter was received in their home. This was a clear sign from God something was changing our method of communication. On the other hand, it might be a clear sign from the post office that letters do occasionally get lost.
Curiosity about computers took over and I delved into the inner workings of the hardware, software and anywhere I could work on the computer. I wrote inventory software, worked with electronically generated operational manuals (previously a laborious job to keep up to date) and developed an excellent word processor for the Atari computer, written in machine language, which eventually entered our home. In short I soon became the most knowledgeable computer user on Guam. At least, in our staff.
Knowledge can be a dangerous thing. With limited personnel when you become an expert in one area you become the expert for the field. Within a couple of years I was suddenly the person to call for computer problems in the mission and the missionary homes. This time saving device began to eat up the extra time I thought I had.
Learning to use the computer was a great benefit to our family. Prayer letters were more colorful with better spelling. Photos eventually made their way into regular letters. We developed a family website. Email replaced many letters and brought the world, family and friends to my keyboard in seconds instead of weeks.
In the years that followed I became immersed in computer technology. Becoming a System Administrator and software programmer my computer skills expanded beyond our field on Guam to include other Asian offices and the home office in the USA. Special training at IBM headquarters put me in a position to help the mission deploy a new set of computing tools worldwide. (AIX Unix for those interested.)
This time saving device now consumed all my time and ministry within the mission and often at our local church and the homes of friends and acquaintances. One day I received a call from the US Customs office on Guam. They had a computer problem and were looking for an answer. When I asked whether I could see the computer to determine the problem I was informed it was classified. They wanted an answer by some miracle of intuition. I declined their call and have been declining other intuitive requests for assistance ever since.
Computers are a way of life now and I recommend every missionary have a computer with email access. There are aspects of the device which are beneficial to the ministry and aspects which are detrimental. At times its demands control us and other times we control it.
The many trees killed thanks to cheap printers can’t be good for the world. Our own nerves are often put on edge as we try to keep pace with the faster and faster computing power of the machine God allowed us to create. Once we took our time to write a letter, consider our words, and communicate with each other. Now we type quickly, hit the spell check button, and whisk our immediate thoughts around the world.
So many areas of life are like a computer. Given carefully attention they can be helpful and beneficial to our walk with God. Time in reading, music, fellowship and church are great for building our understanding of God’s work as it applies to our lives. Too much time reading, in music, in fellowship and even at church can have the inverse effect. There are extremes and excesses which can move a good activity into a harmful arena of life.
We must be careful, listen to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, and approach the tools and ministries of life with wisdom and careful moderation. As I sit in front of the computer, writing these memories, I too need to “be still” and know that He is God!

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Testing My Theology

I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. (Psalms 119:11 WEB)

Most of our years on Guam Beth worked in the listener mail department. It was encouraging to hear her read letters from folks whose lives were redeemed and headed for eternity because they heard the word of God on the radio. This kept us close to the listeners we never saw face to face.

Occasionally the listener response department would receive a letter with detailed questions which could not be answered easily during the working days. These would be passed to different members of the staff for a more extensive biblical response. Some were directed my way by my loving wife.

When I was young and began to understand the Gospel I realized there were many aspects of Christianity I didn’t understand. This is how it works with everyone. Nobody has all the answers just because they’re born again. Some who are religious have a good head start like the Apostle Paul. He knew God’s word and promises but needed a little blindness to open his eyes to the truth. He had the knowledge but not the correct response or interpretation. That took time and experience.

Listeners hear God’s word, respond and come to salvation! Praise the Lord! Unfortunately they don’t have instant complete theological interpretation and understanding. None of us do. This is how God works. Through fellow believers God teaches us. Through the Holy Spirit, God teaches us. Through the Bible God teaches us. Only one person I know understood all aspects of theology correct. This was Jesus as he walked among us.

When writing in response to programs believers are honest with their questions. I remember a few choice questions which were passed my direction. One man wanted to know whether he was still permitted to have intimate relations with his wife now that he was saved. At the other end of the spectrum were new believers asking whether they should discontinue their relationship with concubines. (Yes, they still exist in many parts of the world.) Others asked questions as they came from other religions such as, “Is Jesus just a prophet or the son of God?” The questions covered a large range of topics and depths.

Working with these letters made me think back to my college years. Believe it or not I am trained as a theologian, not an Engineer. It’s strange the way God uses people to work in His plans and not in our preconceptions. The occasional letter that crossed my desk was welcomed as a chance to hone my understanding of God’s word. In the process of discovering truth, to answer the question of someone I don’t know, I learn a lot.

Learning has always been something I enjoy. The exception is when I do something stupid or sinful and have to learn the hard way. It’s more enjoyable to learn from God’s word than through God’s discipline. Answering questions, teaching Sunday school and even teaching at Bayview Bible Institute all taught me more than I taught others.

God works this way. He brings people into our lives with questions we thought we understood until we start to explain what we thought we understood. This process tests our theology, our faith and expands our understanding of God’s love, God’s grace and the work of the Holy Spirit. We might find ourselves growing when we tackle the questions that come our way.

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Mother of Learning

Instruct a wise man, and he will be still wiser. Teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning. (Proverbs 9:9 WEB)

Some people appear to know everything. No matter the subject at hand they seem to be experts in the details and functions of the topic. When a problem comes along they always seem to have a solution. My children accuse me of this but I know it isn’t true. God has proven that over and over during my life.

When living outside your comfort zone it doesn’t take long before you find yourself with a problem you don’t understand. It might be a problem you quickly recognize but have never been asked for the solution. For me this applies to anything dealing with cars and car repair. I like to drive, enjoy it immensely. I love road trips and watching the countryside whisk by revealing God’s glorious handiwork.

This is great as long as the car works. Unfortunately cars are mechanical beasts created by the imperfect hands of men. Looking carefully at the inside of the engine compartment I’m in a quandary. I’m not sure whether the designer is a genius or schizophrenic. How they figure which wire goes to which place and which vacuum hose pulls from which nozzle is beyond my understanding. Give me a transmitter schematic diagram or modulator section and it makes perfect logical sense.

Cars and their internal combustion engines are a mystery. So, when things go wrong I’m in trouble. I never thought of Guam as a school for auto repair. The Lord had other things in mind. During our fourteen years on Guam I learned how to change brakes, universal joints, reseal an engines and replace a clutch. Repairing items such as radiators and air- conditioners were included as well as welding together a gear shift which fell off the car in the parking lot!

Rich was a great help. He actually knew how these things worked in a car and how to make repairs. If a mechanical problem appeared to stump everyone we would ask Rich to look at it. Sometimes he would say, “It can’t be repaired.” We would smile at one another, let an acquiescent “hummm” escape our lips and then say, “You’re right, no one could fix this.” That was the key phrase. It was like a bell to a Pavlov pup. Rich would take up the challenge and discover some new inventive resolution to the problem and have things running in no time.

But it wasn’t fair to have Rich fix everyone’s car, or dryer, or whatever. So, understanding this when I was suddenly the computer expert inundated with requests, I decided it was best to do the work myself and resort to Rich as an expert consultant. Putting my hands and back into the fray he would more than gladly provide me with the necessary instruction to get the repair done. He could do the task but preferred I learn how to work on my own car. He was right, it was good for me and for him. When I was really stuck he’d jump into the repair job with joy and demonstrate what needed to be done. After extracting me from the difficult situation, Rich would leave me to continue and finish the work.

Automobile repairs weren’t the only learning experiences on the mission field. Through the expert guidance of colleagues I discovered I can rebuild engines, drive tractors, operate a back hoe and even sit in a Boson’s chair hanging between the wires of an antenna to help with some high wire work. The last is a mere miracle with my fear of heights! Walking where God called us provided assurance as I stepped outside my comfort zone again and again.

Comfort comes in many forms and one is storage space in the house. This requires lots of closets or storage cabinets. We didn’t arrive with a large quantity of furniture. Our container held some keepsakes from our family and additional storage spaces were necessary. Furniture was available on Guam, for a price larger than our missionary bank account could accommodate.

I checked out the spare items available at the transmitter site I found old shipping containers from our shipment and others who arrived from the mainland. With the help of Kevin, another colleague in ministry, we started a small furniture factory. Well, maybe not real furniture but we made it useful! All the tools were available in the mission shop and long night shifts were a great time for cutting, hammering, and making a general mess when no one else was around.

We created a couple of nice entertainment cabinets complete with doors and curtains so they looked presentable. They’re still being used in our home fifteen years later! Not bad for left over shipping boxes. I was inspired by the work and actually purchased some good wood to build a couple small items for holding magazines and a doll house for Ellice.

As each necessity unfolded I surveyed my talents and knowledge to discover there was always something new to learn. In each adventure God provided the necessary skill, training and guidance through His Spirit and the Spirit led lives of my companions in the ministry. That’s the way God works in our lives. We don’t know everything at one time but receive what we need at the right time.

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