Taking the Word to the World

“Mop water and pray,” she said. “Mop water and pray.” I listened, mesmerized by her words. Sister Laura Long stood and recounted what it was like to endure the magnificent power of a category five cyclone. It hovered directly above the Bible school, where many sought refuge from the wind and rain. For hours, mothers clung to their children and flinched as the storm pounded the doors and windows. The shrill of the wind was deafening. Sister Long’s husband used his body to brace the door. Water shot in through the bottom. Both AIMers, the Long’s were stationed in Port Villa, Vanuatu to serve with missionaries Peter and Robyn Gration. At the mercy of a storm raging at 200 miles per hour, all they could do was “mop water and pray.”

But that was over a week ago. Along with two others, I had landed in Port Villa to form a CSI response team. Over the coming days, our job was to assess the damage done to the national church infrastructure and develop a disaster relief plan. After being briefed by the Long’s, our team hired a local pastor and together we drove around the island. On day one, we counted three churches that were either completely or mostly destroyed.

CSI Truck

Talking with local pastors and saints, we discovered that the cyclone had destroyed Vanuatu’s system of crops. Because it was a country built on subsistence agriculture, the lack of crops was the most devastating result of Cyclone Pam. Even if families planted new crops immediately, it would be 6—9 months before sustainable harvests were available.

Analyzing the situation, the CSI team decided to create strategic locations to store food, tools, and other goods. Just as Joseph in Egypt stored goods in the seven years of plenty in preparation for seven years of famine, we established “The Joseph Project.” In time, we were able to stock multiple pallets with rice, flour, dry noodles, canned meat, and crackers in expectation of national food shortages.

Into the Bush 1

After hearing of damage done to other islands, the CSI team along with a local pastor and missionaries Long and Gration chartered a plane to establish multiple Joseph Project sites on Epi Island. After a shaky plane ride, we landed on a bumpy grass runway. A truck met us onto which we loaded our gear and supplies. While sitting on bags of rice in the back of the truck, our delegation drove an hour into the bush before arriving at a village called Nuvie. There, we presented dry goods along with hammers, nails, saws, and tarps to the village. Before flying out later that day, we presented resources to a second village.

During our two week stay in Vanuatu, the CSI team worked alongside men in Port Villa’s churches to demolish the destroyed church sanctuary located on the Bible school’s compound. Lastly, we were glad to provide the necessary materials to help rebuild two homes.

Pulpit 2

In all of the damage done by the cyclone, there was great beauty to be seen. I will never forget the pulpit that I saw after walking into the mangled sanctuary of the headquarters church. Though covered in debris, wires, and metal beams that had fallen from the roof, it stood ever so stalwartly. As we began to cut down the twisted beams and shovel the sheetrock and insulation moistened by the rain, I kept looking back to the pulpit. Like a soldier tired by battle, it was bent but not broken. To me, it stood as a testament to the church. What a sermon it preached. Yes, the church in Vanuatu was weakened by winds and rain. It was weakened, but not destroyed. Like the pulpit which stood and preached in the sun that day, it holds true. As the pulpit was bent but not broken, the church in Vanuatu will continue to shine reflecting Christ and his magnificent glory. In the end, after the ceiling had fallen it landed and found a resting place on top of the pulpit. In like manner, God’s great church scattered among the many islands of Vanuatu will hold together a nation and be the hope that rises in the remains of the storm.

Were you to open my journal you would see it all throughout. You could not fail to notice all of the places where the stiff necked soldiered lines of proper words standing at attention turn to jagged, fluid flops of gibberish. What formerly held the promise of prose slumps off into scribble. The thoughts I have been rushing to ink out onto paper are cut short. The paragraphs I meant to pile up into pleasing turns of phrase have turned another direction entirely.

Why?

Because a tiny hand keeps grabbing hold of my pen.

I could take it back. I could pry that pen straight out of those pudgy hands by force of my own superior prowess.

But I don’t.

Instead, I teach her how to pass it back to me.

I am in control. I can give commands but I with all my power, I wait with open hands.

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She tries to create for herself. Even now. Even early. She tries to create while she cannot possibly comprehend what she is crafting. She scribbles for a little while, observes her craft and then, weary of her writing work she hands me back the pen. And that, that very instant is the moment when I with all my knowledge can begin to write again.

I write words beyond her imagining. Words she cannot possibly begin to understand.

The story begins to make sense once more, when the pen is in my hand.

It is this mystery miraculous that He who crafted space waits for us to make room for Him.

He sits enthroned on high, yet we can knock Him off of the throne of our hearts any time we feel like it.

He created time, and sometimes we manage to spare a bit for Him.

He can chase the east wind at the speed of light but He waits with wild tenacity for us to be willing to walk with Him.

It is a mystery miraculous, this mystery miracle love.

As you go on in my journal you will smile much now and then when you see all of the places that she grabbed the pen again.

But greater still the times she placed it back into my hands, so I could write the harder words, so I could etch out plans.

She will grow. And she will know that all the time it seemed

That I took from her

That I cheated her

And did it with a smile

On every page

At every age

I was writing all the while

The rhyming and the rhythm of things she’s never dreamed.

photo credit: Fuji X100S Macro via photopin (license)

I’ve been blessed to make my mobile office in far flung places and click away at the latest letter, blog, article or lesson. The surroundings were equally diverse. I once outlined the plan for two hundred lessons of Acts: God’s Training Manual for Today’s Church, which birthed Portable Bible Schools International, on the front side of a restaurant napkin, during our twelfth wedding anniversary getaway at a little rustic hotel on a beach in central Ghana.

These days you find me writing—usually rushed—at World Evangelism Center. My backdrop is an office filled with my growing collection of globes. I sit behind a desk covered with ever-present projects, smacked in front of a huge lighted sign. Encircled outside the globe are the words “The Whole Gospel to the Whole World.” This treasure hung on the outside of one of our earliest headquarters’ facilities sixty or more years ago. It reveals our existence and refocuses our attention. As an organization. As a church. As an individual.

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This morning’s setting is a little different. I’m at home. Not a creature is stirring. Except me. My laptop is where it was meant to be—on my lap, and I’m busily clicking out a few faithful words to you. Norman Rockwell would have loved capturing this scene. The lighted tree, in its array of Christmas colors, goes merrily round and round, nestled in the corner of our living room. Fluffy red and white stockings hang from the fireplace. Gifts are neatly wrapped and displayed under the tree and flanked in front of the hearth. No fire this year. Sorry, Norman! In my younger years I would have assessed, shaken, and successfully guessed the contents of each neatly wrapped box or gift bag. These days, in my executive finesse and maturity, I save my energy for lifting boxes on Christmas morning.

Whether from my corner office, flanked with globes, or my Lazy Boy at home, my thoughts often take me to our short-term and long-term missionaries in distant nations, our national ministers, and all those that support and love the cause of global missions. They make it possible—you make it possible—for us to proudly proclaim that the banner of apostolic truth waves high in 208 nations and the sun never sets on the United Pentecostal Church International.

Overall, our Christmases have been spent in West Africa where I didn’t even bother dreaming of a “White Christmas.” Most have been merry. But, there have been a few that have been lacking. My worst memory of Christmas, just because I want to get it off my chest, is one of my first as a married guy, when I was clowning around, and accidentally backed into—and broke—my in-law’s Christmas tree. My mother-in-law was never one to get angry. Congratulations, James! You brought her pretty close. I still remember the look of her disappointment and displeasure. It still leaves me shuddering in despair and stuttering at the computer keyboard. My father-in-law was able to get the tree base fixed. But, alas the tree was wounded and never the same again. And, we were reminded of my folly, on a yearly basis. The tree was shipped off to Africa to be featured in our home there. Crooked. Crippled. Even broken things are the makings of great Christmas memories.

Then, there was our first Christmas in Ghana in 1995. Twas the morning of Christmas, and all through the house…no cooking gas could be found. Cooking gas selectively goes out at the absolute worst of times. I scoured the city for hours just so we could have breakfast Christmas muffins at lunch or supper. Yep, that takes the cake, or I should say blueberry muffin, for ranking first place as my most carnal Christmas.

My most unforgettable Christmas was the first one Linda and I shared as a brand-spanking-newly-married couple thirty years ago. We were on AIM in Nigeria. We had been hitched for three weeks when we returned to the field during the holiday season. Our first month’s income was $12.79, or was it $12.59? I often get it mixed up. Doesn’t matter. What difference does twenty cents make, one way or the other? We had brought with us this little paper pop-up Christmas tree to decorate. No need for lights.  They only would serve as a constant distraction for cockroaches-with-nine-lives that scurried across the concrete floor. Amazingly, we felt so alone in the midst of 100,000,000 people. My Christmas gifts that year from my new bride (I have no idea how she found the money); a pair of sandals and a Nigerian peach-colored “up-and-down.” That’s the equivalent to a very bright pair of pajamas designed to be worn in public. It made perfect sense, as I sit here thinking about it. Peach was Linda’s favorite color so it should be mine as well. Right? Wrong! I have no idea what I bought her that year. Hopefully it was something better than that first doll I brought her from Holland. You know the classy one, with the wooden shoes. I thought all girls, at any age, loved dolls. Right? Wrong! It’s marvelous, though, how the most un-treasured gifts ultimately become the most treasured ones. The worst of memories eventually become the best of memories. Now, I struggle, on a yearly basis, to recall the many gifts I receive. Some of the unforgettable memories have not surfaced from when I’ve had much but from when I’ve had little.

So, this year, whether your Christmas is white or green, cold or hot, at home or far from home, longstanding family or new-found friends, lonely or crowded, plenty or lean, evergreen or palm, my sage advice is embrace this season of life as you face the holiday season. The memories in the making are your own!

Give All You’ve Got

The story is often told of Mary and Joseph making the long journey to Bethlehem for the census.  Mary and Joseph are turned away by an innkeeper who proclaims,  “There is no room for you in the Inn.”  Songs have been written about this, and messages preached.  As the Innkeeper turns the couple away, he remembers that he has a stable, and offers for them to stay there.  The Innkeeper is blamed for being insensitive to Mary’s condition and not being able to discern that it was the King of Kings that would be born in that stable.  However, there is another aspect.  He could have sent the family away from his premises all together.  But, when he saw Mary’s condition and assessed the situation, he offered the only available space in his inn – a stable.  The Innkeeper’s suggested response reminds us that:

God never requires anything more from us, than what we are able to give.  

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How often have we declined to offer what we had because we didn’t think it was good enough?  He can take our little and make it grow just by His touch.  One man has said, “Little is much when the Master is in it.” How many times have you failed to give what you had because you did not feel it was enough?  Even in areas of financial giving, be reminded that if you can’t do something BIG, why not do something Small?  If we all would give a little then a lot would be accomplished.  Don’t do nothing just because you can’t do everything.  And when it comes to you, God only expects you to give what you have.  The few talents that you have when yielded to the Lord Jesus can accomplish much.  You may feel that you are not rich enough, talented enough, or smart enough to be used of the Lord.  Put these feelings aside, surrender yourself to God, and give it all you’ve got.

Stay Away from Stupid!

The world has always been focused about forming the church and Christians into their faulty, fallen fallacy. We are used to that. There is nothing new about being encouraged to conform to the prevailing culture of society. We’ve always had to be counter-culture with the world. For decades we have struggled but things seem to be sliding quickly closer and closer to home. Now, things have turned. Not only are we called upon to be counter-culture with society but with the church world.

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I recently was with a couple of young people talking about the most recent books they had been reading. I was unpleasantly surprised. I walked away deeply concerned. I’m sure they thought through reading they were fulfilling Paul’s encouragement to Timothy in II Timothy 2:15. Or, at least, I hope that was their motivation. There is a big difference between studying the Word and the word of others. One is approved by God, enabling us to be a worker in God’s kingdom without shame, rightly dividing His Word. The other is detested by God, produces a person muddled, misinformed, mistaken, and mixed up; un-rightly and dangerously dividing the Word of God. Scares me just typing it! Later, I thought—and I know it isn’t rocket science— there is an enormous metamorphosis between being studious and stupid. 

Don’t get me wrong. I believe in being cutting-edge and up-to-snuff. I really do! Finding modern ways to express the old path; that is cutting-edge and culturally-relevant biblically. I want to be liberal enough to use new ways and conservative enough to stick with God’s solid, specific path.

Changing apostolic doctrine to fit the times is just plain stupid. It’s dangerous and not merely on the edge; it’s totally over it. I nearly freaked out an entire primary school one time when I used the word “stupid.” They had been taught using the word was paramount to cursing. Perhaps so! Changing God’s Word to facilitate prevailing thinking may very well bring a curse. Let me try to improve my wording. Changing apostolic doctrine to fit the times is unwise, senseless, ill-advised, and thoughtless. How’s that?

I am deeply disturbed and profoundly perplexed when I meet young and old alike that cannot explain why they believe our foundational, fundamental doctrine. They know what they believe but have no idea why they believe it. The danger in that is one day we could produce a generation that does not believe. What a tragedy! But the reverse is so inspiring and encouraging:  “And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, the repairer of the breach, the restorer of the paths to dwell in” (Isaiah 58:12). 

Here are four ways that make that possible. I’m sure there any many more.

Speak it     

 Speak the Word of God in your life continually.

Study it 

 Be committed to studying God’s Word and receiving it.

Do it 

 Be willing to do what the Word of God says.

Love it 

 Love God’s Word. Depend on it; not merely the philosophies of me.

Follow those four points and you will stay away from stupid!

photo credit: Alex E. Proimos via photopin cc

Guest Post: #IAmGlobal

For today’s post I’m reaching back to the Global Missions Service at this year’s UPCI General Conference… thinking not only about the incredible things that God did that night, but the “trickle-down” effects of that service as well.

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$4.3 Million Dollars

That’s what was raised in the span of roughly 2 hours, by 6-7,000 people in one room and more that were watching via streaming video. It didn’t happen by itself however…

The service began as many do: Anointed singing, some preliminaries and Liz & I were invited to participate in the parade of nations. What an honour! Then someone introduced the #IamGlobal offering that was about to be taken. Missionary kids began heaving inflatable globes through the audience and Liz caught a couple, with the help of missionary to Ireland, Cindy McFarland (pictured above). People or churches offering $5,000 or more would receive a small “I am Global” crystal globe. Some went up to do that but more went once the number dropped below $1,000.

Then something changed. Pastor @AnthonyMangun (Alexandria, LA) got up to preach. #WowQuote of the evening was this:

“We’re very quick to use the term apostolic on our facebook & twitter profiles, but before we use that term next, we need to also look at our bank accounts.”

… his implication: does our giving reflect the same pattern of sacrificial giving as seen in the life of the apostles?

IamGlobalSomething happened. Conviction swept in and many people gave offerings larger than $5,000…without the promise of a trinket. One person was selling a business for $150,000.00 and that money has already been received by Global Missions.

Therein we see the power of the word of God: to convict the hearts of Christians and bring about sacrificial giving for the purpose of global missions. What caused that miracle offering:  the teaching of God’s word received by soft hearts.

More than an offering

I love the name of the offering… “I am Global”,  because every time we say it we:

  1. Reaffirm our connection to that miracle offering and
  2. we reiterate the need to look for a harvest beyond ourselves.

Our Kids are Global

Kids_IamGlobal_1Liz brought back a globe for each of the Kids. They weren’t in that service, but we want them to be connected to that same spirit… to see themselves as Global.

Of course, they’ll see themselves asGlobal by virtue of the fact that they’ll be living in France for a time, but more than that, we remind them that they’re not just going to France to “watch mom & dad do their missionary thing,” rather, God wants to use them as well: whether through helping with music in the church or showing the love of God to new friends outside the church.

Prayer

  • Pray that God prepares our kids; that they truly grow to see themselves as Global. That he use them to Advance His Kingdom.
  • Later this evening we’ll be ministering in the first French service being organized byPastor Mike Noel of Life Church, in Campbellton, NB. Pray for revival among the French community of northern New Brunswick.

Thank you for your prayers… they make you part of #Revival_inFrance!

I Bought LIFE

Yep, I did it. I bought it–the game called LIFE. You, who know me, know I’m not a game player, especially a full-size game bored type that takes an hour to play. And, Mr. Editor, I did spell “board” as “bored” on purpose. Live with it, okay! That’s LIFE!

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Why did I do it? Why did I fall or fail into this depth of despair? Crazy, I know, but I woke from a dream very early one morning thinking about it. Wildly, I sometimes plan my sermons and lessons in my sleep, looking for ways to keep people from falling to sleep when I teach and preach.  Sometimes, it even works!

Unfortunately, LIFE isn’t merely a dream. You eventually wake up. It’s not a game. You don’t get to play it again and again. It’s not a drama. There ain’t any dress rehearsal. It’s the real deal! You get it live it once. But, like the board game, at the end all the pieces go back in a box.

I love the description: “a classic family game that can be a reality check–or just a fun time.” Living life is certainly a wakeup call—at times from what occasionally seems more like a nightmare than a dream.

“Different spaces offer life challenges like babies, houses, night school.” Yep, life challenges compete and contest God’s very purpose and plan causing you to comply and change. You are propelled to take a drive along twisting roads because life is full of twists and turns. You only get to see as far as the next bend in the road.

Note some of the comments left on Amazon:

“It takes forever to put together and it’s kind of boring.” The real deal feels like that at times. Seems to take forever to get it together, But, beware, once together, life is over before you know it. Whew, here today, speedily gone tomorrow. And boring? Sometimes, but that’s up to you. It can be adventure after adventure, pursuing God’s will, fulfilling His plan, and living out His passion.

Another commentator said, “It does not have enough money and does not fit in the box well.” I’ve experienced that too. Haven’t you? Seldom enough money. Well, usually enough. God provides. But, often there’s not a lot of excess to spare, but just enough to depend on Him.  And it’s irritating fitting life into the neat little box. That’s for sure!

I grinned at this complaint, “missing some pieces.” The real thing feels like that too. But, in actuality, you’ve been given all the pieces necessary to travel through life. It’s all there. And, with Him, you are totally complete! 

We’ll come back to this thought again and likely again. I’m not finished with LIFE; gladly still on the journey! See you on the road of LIFE!

photo credit: Telstar Logistics via photopin cc

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