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October 28, 2011

but now...after a water barrel dunking

There are a few photos in the memory book my mom made that show me with clenched fists and a temper grimace. I suppose thatŐs because I had quiet a temper back then. I suspect itŐs likely Dad often wondered what he might do to teach me tantrums were really not appropriate behavior.

Corrugated tin roofs were very common out in Apolo, the Andean foothill town where I spent my first through third grades. Gutters and down-spouts collected the rain water off our tin roofs and filled fifty-five gallon steel barrels at the corners of our buildings. A muslin dish towel stretched across the top of the drum filtered the water and kept bugs and debris out of this source of soft drinking water. In an environment where we did not have reliable running water or a bath tub or a shower, the water barrels also became a solution to my temper tantrums.

Dad has often apologized especially for the time he forgot about me as I stood in the chest deep water of the barrel longer than he had intended. I donŐt have any recall of how many times I had to undergo the cooling off treatment, but it seems to me not long after the rain barrel discovery there was a significant curbing of my outbursts.

IŐve been wondering how long it would take for this story to find itŐs way into my telling, where it would fit the good news purpose. The good news about GodŐs desire for a good relationship with us comes to us like a coin, with two sides. One side is all Good News, the story of God becoming a man to take on Himself the sin of humanity in death on a cross and to prove His power over both sin and death by His resurrection, the story of GodŐs forgiveness that brings us into a good relationship with Him. But for the good news side of the coin to make any sense to us, we need to first see the other side of the coin. The other side is called Law. The Law tells us that we are unacceptable to God, sinners, temper tantrum people in need of a good water barrel soaking. ItŐs not until we realize how bad we really are, how desperately lost we are because of our disobedience and sin, that the Good News will make any sense.

'But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it - the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.'

October 21, 2011

like a father with his children

One of the banes of growing up a missionary kid (MK) was living with the reality of an often absent dad. After my family returned to the USA when I was fifteen, Mom and Dad did some calculations and figured Dad was away from the family on ministry and pastoral trips about two-thirds of the time. It is not true of all MK's, and I don't lay claim to fame or declare any bragging rights, but it has been given to me to understand and even appreciate the sacrifices my parents made for the sake of the gospel.

Maybe it is Dad's absences that make the times we did share together particularly memorable. I don't know how the mission started work in Apolo, a small town of about 600 at about 6000 feet above sea level in the Andean foot hills an hour's flight in a DC3 north of the capital city of La Paz. The mission had been vacant for some time when Dad was commissioned to make a visit to Apolo and to see if work should be started there again. Though I was only five, Dad chose to take me along for this trip of a lifetime. It is from this trip that I have my second set of strongest mental images: the dark musty tack room where a saddle was stored, the single pole bridge we crossed, and the green overgrown, lush vegetation along a path we traversed on our visit to the outlying villages where small congregations had been established.

After our short visit to Apolo, we made a quick six month trip to Minnesota. When we returned to Bolivia, our family was stationed in Apolo where we spent the next four years.

Pastor Paul was thankful for believers who understood the sacrifices that brought them the gospel. He thought of himself as a mother with a nursing child or a dad teaching his children. I'm thankful for godly parents who taught me of Jesus. I'm thankful that God used Pastor Paul to teach us of Himself. "For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory."

October 13, 2011

He has chosen you

I don't remember a time when Jesus was not in my life. Central to my belief about God is the tenet that God chose me and that He adopted me into His family in baptism. Ideally, when an infant is baptized, the baptism happens as soon after birth as reasonably possible. Mine was four months after my birth because Mom waited for Dad's arrival to Bolivia from Costa Rica where he had been at language school.

While it is true that I believe I have been God's from infancy through the grace He richly poured out upon me and through His allowing me to participate in His death and resurrection through baptism, it is also true that I had to mature into that faith relationship and eventually claim it as my own. Here I have to rely on the retelling of that first occasion when my relationship to Jesus, His choosing me, became real to me since I also have no memory of that event. I do have some memories that are earlier, memories, snapshots in my mind, of the Christmas just before I turned three and pieces of the first trip I made to the US just after I turned three. I suppose I remember these things because of the strong visual impact they had, but there must not have been the same kind of impact (or maybe it is possible I was getting old enough so that there were many more things to remember) with the event we might call my first commitment to Christ.

I was five. Dad had just preached at a service at our church. I don't know if it was a regular Sunday morning or Sunday evening service or it it was a special evangelistic service. What I do know is that he invited those who heard the message to come forward to the altar to confess their sins and receive forgiveness, to begin a new life with Jesus. I didn't know the reason they came forward, but I must have been struck by the sounds and sights of penitence, the sobs and tears of repentance as those who knelt at the altar were convicted of their sin and humbled themselves before the mighty grace of God. With peaked curiosity I asked Dad why those people came forward, why those people were crying. He told me it was because they were sorry for their sins and they were asking Jesus to come and live in them. He then asked me if I wanted to ask Jesus to live in me, too. As he tells the story, I said yes; and he prayed with me.

"For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction."

October 8, 2011

for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content

By US standards we grew up with very little. The World Mission Prayer League philosophy (or more accurately said "theology") is that God will provide for the needs of those who in obedience follow the call to cross cultural boundaries for the sake of the Good News. Yes, we lived in hand-me-downs and home sewn clothes and the soles of my shoes often flopped a while before they were replaced; but we always had food, and clothing, and shelter. Inspite of our little, we were comfortable and content.

I can only really remember one occasion when lack caused me a moment of chagrin. I was in sixth grade at boarding school. We were having our annual field days filled with athletic events. I had grown up playing soccer, I played barefoot on a gravel field during my second and third grade years, so I didn't have the upper body strength the kids who played football, basketball, and softball/baseball had developed. I couldn't do push-ups or pull-ups. I didn't have the hops for longjump or highjump. What I could do was run, and the 100 yard dash was going to be my event. I don't know that anyone else noticed. No one said anything to me at end of the race. The winners got their rewards, but the losers got nothing, not even words of consolation.

As I remember it, I was in the lead at 75 yards. I clearly remember glancing left and right and not seeing anyone in my field of vision. That's when the soles on my Keds decided they had given me all the steps they would. The flopping toe became a flopping half bottom. I actually don't remember if a fell or if I crossed the finish line. I do clearly recall the tripping and the floundering and the loss. I was crushed; but as I look back, the crush was probably more that I didn't get that consoling pat on the back a dad would have given me who having noticed would have known that on that day in that race I really was the fastest.

Pastor Paul certainly experienced hardships far beyond anything in my life. My moments of need pale by far. So, when he invites us to follow his example in living the life to which we have been called, it is not an empty invitation. It may very well be that in my lifetime yet, we will come under greater and greater pressure; and the suffering for our faith may truly become real. It would be of benefit, then, for us to cultivate this attitude that Pastor Paul passes on to us so that when we do find ourselves in need we can say with him "for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content" and "I can do all things through him who strengthens me." (

October 1, 2011

I press on toward the goal

It was sort of a hollow victory, and I'm not particularly proud of how it all went down; but there was something in me that told me I had to run. In ninth grade I was one of the youngest in the church youth group. The high school boys and young adult men were usually good mentors. They taught me a wicked overhand volleyball serve, but I wasn't particularly athletic and certainly not up to their par.

We were at a retreat. Part of our afternoons involved a variety of competitive events all of which I lost to their age and better performance. So when the cross country race--the one event in which I thought I might have a chance at an award--was cancelled at the last minute, I almost took it as a personal affront. That's when the voice within, admittedly anger driven, told me to just run. And run I did. I wasn't going to let them cancel "my" event. I don't regret the running. What wasn't too pretty was the stink I put up before setting off on my own to run. In the end I was given second place on an estimated time since the powers that be ran the race after all guessing at the time I likely had set off after my temper tantrum.

I chuckle now that this day comes back to my mind when I consider the passion with which Pastor Paul lived his life and the goal for which he so adamantly strived. The zeal of his pre-Christ life was very strong. He was a promising young man, the future lawyer any Jewish mom would be proud of. But all that he had, all the promise, all the likelihood that he would be among the most powerful men in Israel, he gave up for a new goal. He gave it all up to serve Jesus, and to live Jesus, and to "press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ."

"Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ.