Tag Archives: Missionaries

Lady of Little Faith

For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14 WEB)

When my son Evan came to visit us in Austria, I asked him to bring me some books. Since he worked in a bookstore it was a great chance to get some reduced prices. I like sales! Anyway, I’d decided to read some of the major works I’d avoided over the years in lieu of reading theology and Christian ministry related books, not to mention the computer, radio, audio, and numerous other texts relating to my ministry.

He lugged the massive, even in paperback, copy of The Brothers Karamazov, to our home. I’d read excerpts from Fyodor Dostoevsky and references to his characters in other texts and decided it was time to take the plunge and see if I could work my way through the 776 pages of the tome. I found it fascinating how Dostoevsky rambled in his prose style. Way too many words for my succinct engineering mind. But, I still enjoyed his presentation of the people, culture, and theological mindset created in his literary version of Russia. So, I just stopped and made a note of a passage that caught my fancy.

I was in part I, book 2, when I met the monastery elder Zosima. Interestingly described, with great detail to the historical installation of elders, with that wizened presence which instills confidence in those around him. Several encounters were described which served to demonstrate his amazing, clear evaluation of those seeking his blessing and advice. Then I came to a lady of little faith. Without reiterating the depth of the text, he made the following statement, to the lady, concerning her desire to love those around her.

. . . active love is a harsh and fearful thing compared with love in dreams. Love in dreams thirsts for immediate action, quickly, performed, and with everyone watching. Indeed, it will go as far as the giving even of one’s life, provided it does not take long but is soon over, as on stage, and everyone is looking on and praising. Whereas active love is labor and perseverance, and for some people, perhaps, a while science. But I predict that even in that very moment when you see with horror that despite all your efforts, you not only have not come nearer your goal but seem to have gotten farther from it, at that very moment – I predict this to you – you will suddenly reach your goal and clearly behold over you the wonder-working power of the Lord, who all the while has been mysteriously guiding you.”

I wish I could take credit for such a clear statement, but alas, I can’t. While translated from the original Russian this seems a concise description of many Christians in today’s church. I was caught off guard when I realized the times I too have sought to be loving for the joy of the spiritual applause my fellow believers provided.

We, even Christians, even missionaries, like an audience that appreciates our efforts. The lady in the story confessed to seeking advice, on how to express love to others, for the joy of being praised by the elder. I like to think I’m selfless and giving fully of myself in serving others. This may be true at times. But, at other times I sulk and am tempted to stop when my ego isn’t bolstered with words of encouragement and praise.

Maybe you can identify with me, maybe not. I must confess, I was chastised when I read the sentence, “. . .active love is labor and perseverance, . . .” countered against the condemnation, “Love in dreams thirsts for immediate action, quickly, performed, and with everyone watching.” Ouch, that hurts!

So, I guess I need to look a little more closely, even as a missionary, at the reason I do this or that. Am I being “nice” because I should, because it is Christ-like? Or, am I looking for worldly approval? Tough questions.

So, a new week begins, my mind has been challenged. We’ll see how things go. Maybe somewhere in the days ahead I’ll draw closer to my goal of loving everyone around me, as Christ loved me, even in the midst of my mistakes and, at times, wrong attitude. We have a wonder-working Lord and it is a wonder what he does in me day to day.

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A Guy Thing

I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth. (3 John 1:4 NASB)

Growing up near Cincinnati, Ohio we were just a hop, skip and a jump from the Wright-Patterson Air Force Museum. Three boys would join forces with a father who was once in the Air Force and visit this paragon of devotion to aircraft development and history.

We were duly impressed with the massive planes parked outside on the old airfield. We would walk around the variety of planes, helicopters and other flying machines. We would touch, climb in, drool and dream of flying unhindered through the heavens. None of us ever became pilots. We’ve flown all over the world but others piloted the planes.

Recently I took a trip back to the museum. Since all my boys were working I convinced Beth to come along. She is a loving and understanding wife. She just didn’t understand what she was getting into.

We arrived to find the old air field, once covered with planes, replaced by a series of massive quonset huts. The museum was still free but now modernized with air-conditioning. Some of the rustic adventure of sweating with the oldies was replaced with fancy displays, restrooms and maps. I can be a wimp at times and love air-conditioning when it’s hot outside. It was hot that day and I was thankful for the upgrade.

Starting with the Wright Brothers we wandered through six buildings filled with winged machines. The variety, a mixture of real, test, and future planes was staggering. From the small one man planes to the massive B52 and Superfortress I was having a grand time. I took lots of photos and tried to sound like I knew something about the different models, their history and purpose.

This is a guy thing, I think. When it comes to planes, cars and all that is mechanical we feel we have to demonstrate our proficiency and knowledge on the subject. Unfortunately, I’m not very good when it comes to planes and cars.

I never was a car fanatic. Other guys will shout, “wow,” and point to some sleek looking car driving down the highway. This is usually followed by a description of the make, model and year. By the time I realize they are talking about a car it’s long gone. To maintain the bravado I nod my head and say, “wow.”

2006_08_15_wrightpattersonmuseum_60I liked planes because they were cool looking but couldn’t tell one from another without the appropriate name plate. I loved building model planes as I was growing up. They would line the shelves in my room and hang on strings from the ceiling. I had to look at the boxes to figure out which one was which.

It didn’t take long for Beth to realize I was often guessing, or down right fabricating, my extensive knowledge on aeronautics. She knew it was a guy thing and would surreptitiously walk past the placard so I could glance at the name and spout some authoritative insight on the planes form and function. I wasn’t very convincing. She wasn’t that subtle.

She made it through five buildings before she commented on being tired. I didn’t want to admit it, but, they were starting to all look alike. My feet were tired too. And, I was getting hungry. But it was a guy thing, I had to see everything! We persevered, a Godly virtue I understand, and made it to the end.

Over the years I’ve met many missionaries and pastors. It’s a pastor thing but you have to have an answer to all theological questions. It’s also a missionary thing. We have difficulty admitting we just don’t know everything about God and his world. We use human logic, peppered with good sounding verses, to justify, explain or cast aside some of the questions sent our way.

It’s like standing in front of the X3 and someone says, “cool!” You feel the urge to expound your limitless knowledge to help them rise above their lowly understanding. If you happen to know something, great. If you don’t know anything, you make it up. Or, if you don’t want to express your creative thinking you exhale heavily, shake your head and walk away like everyone should know. After a while you get pretty good at sounding like you know what you’re talking about.

Sometimes, we, as Christians, feel the pressure to perform. A believer is looking up to our spiritual wisdom, our years of experience, our great knowledge of scripture, to help them answer their question. How we perform, how we respond, how we live our life before others, tells a lot about our own walk with God.

When that “guy” thing comes into play we sometimes piece together the few verses we know to make a logical sounding answer. We play to the crowd of one. Truth may or may not have anything to do with the answer, but it sounds good, including the verses we quote!

When we’re honest, another Godly virtue, we give only the answers we know are true. We don’t try to rebuild our theology on the spot, to be a modern sage. If we don’t know the answer, we admit it and help our brother or sister to find the answer. Truth has everything to do with our response. It has everything to do with what others see in our life.

As we drove away from the museum I had to admit, to my wife, I really didn’t know much about the various planes. I think they’re cool looking. I’ve never studied their purpose or history. She smiled at me and said, “I know.” She’s a smart lady. After we reached home I looked up some stuff on the Internet. I’m still not an expert.

When we realize and admit our spiritual limitations we can openly tell others we don’t know. If that verse doesn’t come to mind, we don’t need to struggle to make it up. We can say we don’t know and then join the discovery. We help someone. We help ourselves. We grow in Christ together. Who are you helping?

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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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