Saturday, March 12, 2016

Making America Great Again

Maybe we aren't so great any more. Is it the fault of government? Maybe. Is it the fault of the people? Definitely.

Our country needs, as do all, an emphasis on religious values. I am not proposing that we be a "Christian nation." I am saying that we should be faithful to the values and intentions of the founding fathers and out constitution. The term "separation of church and state" is not found in the writings of these men who set our nation in motion. They were religious men (to one degree or another) who did not want a single religion to rule. We can use the basic biblical principles on which many of our laws are based. That is what will make us great. Winning wars and booming markets are not what we have lost. We have lost this emphasis on doing what is right, truly caring for the downtrodden, giving opportunities (not handouts) to those in need.

To make America great, we need the One who is truly great. We need to seek his blessings. AND, we need to do his work. Our American heritage is based in our faith. Our faith does not say caring for the poor, the elderly, or the orphan is the responsibility of the government. Our faith tells us it is our personal responsibility, and the responsibility of the church. We are to clothe the poor, provide a cup of cool water to the thirst, feed the hungry, etc. If the government wants to help us, that is great. But, that does not lessen my responsibility. 

"Oh," you say, "Paul is getting awfully preachy." Call it what you want. I am saying if you are religious - step up and live your faith. If you are an American - step up and use your blessings as a citizen. In the end, it all works out the same.

If we change our attitudes about serving others, our government will change. If it doesn't, so what. All I can really control is what I do. It starts with me.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Who needs "The Word?"

If our three years in Cambodia did nothing else, it brought it home to me that we have been guilty of majoring on minors for FAR too long --- no matter what we want to think. There is a lost world out there and many (I refrain from saying most) do not want to see it, as we sit in our padded pews, under stain-glassed windows, singing "O How I Love Jesus." I was scared to come back to the U.S., for this reason. And, I am still uncomfortable. I am not sure who needs ministering, the lost or the "saved." I would love to hear your thoughts, as I continue to formulate the balance of this blog post.

Monday, August 11, 2014

All Good Things Come To An End

   September 11, 2011. In many ways, it seems like a lifetime ago. That is because we feel that we have grown a lifetime, since then.
   That was the day Debbie, Reggie, and I boarded a Korean Air flight from Los Angeles to Siem Reap, Cambodia. It was a long flight. The distance from L.A., the 19th largest economy in the world, to Cambodia, a third-world country situated in the middle of Southeast Asia, is 8,142 miles. Oh, but those miles do not really measure the true distance. In some instances, it would seem we traveled decades. In many instances, it felt more like centuries.
   Cambodia is a kingdom ravaged by civil war, cross-border conflicts, corruption, idolatry, and animism. This means it is a country in need of education, medical care, and salvation. Inwardly, we thought we were coming to help the poor, teach the uneducated, heal the sick, and save the lost. There was a big surprise waiting for us!

   We were touched by the poverty. It is in evidence everywhere. Even in the capitol city of Phnom Penh, the nicest, gated communities have shanty-towns surrounding them. People live on the streets, roadsides, and riverbanks. For many, the housing consists of a thatch lean-to or a tarp stretched across a pole. At best, food comes at a basic subsistence level. Education is something one dreams of for her children. Jobs may produce one dollar a day. We had left our sterile, privileged world behind.

   Healthcare is supposedly available for all. The low cost care is more than many can afford. The “free” care often has a cost attached. Even is medical care is attained, dental care is a dream. Some days, I feel that the dental care is more important than the medical care we can provide.

My Bible Belt upbringing did not prepare me for work in what is quite literally a Godless society. At worst, we had dealt with the “unchurched” who were, in fact, churched (just not lately). Now we were face-to-face with people who had no understanding or knowledge of Jehovah God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit.  Age-old Bible references, that we find so 
common in our everyday language, were completely foreign. These people need to meet a loving, sacrificial Savior.

   Now, so far, this may sound like we made a mistake in coming to Cambodia. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

   These people with tremendous needs also have a heart of thankfulness. They are so thankful for all that we do. Placing a tract in their hand, saying a kind word in their language, directing them to the medical doctor – all of these actions are met with broad smiles, bowing, and words of thanks.

   Just like anywhere, some of the people have no interest in the Gospel. But, there are people longing for a value-added life. They have tried it their way and found no satisfactory answers. The love of God is what they need. Once they find out about it, they will not let go.

   If we can help them with chronic headaches, insomnia, stomach disorders, that is just great. But, we want to share the love of God and give them a “cup of cool water” for the sake of Jesus. And that is what has made the last three years a wonderful experience. God has actually allowed us to be His hands and feet. We have had the privilege to carry the story of our God, and His desire to save us, to a lost and dying world. We have studied with people and seen them light up as they truly meet God. We have seen them as they realize that Jesus is waiting for them, and provides his Spirit to care for them. We have gotten wet baptizing them and seeing new children of God being born.

   It has been three years, now. We are winding down our work. It may sound trite or overly dramatic, but this the most bittersweet experience of my life. We have missed our children. We want to be back for the birth of our first grandchild. We have missed siblings and parents. We want to see our dear friends. But, all of that means leaving Cambodia, the Kingdom of Wonder.

   As of this writing, I cannot quite comprehend our new life in the U.S. It will be great, on so many levels. We have missed Costco, Wal-Mart, CVS, Home Depot, Diet Dr. Pepper, Dunkin’ Donuts (don’t judge us!). To have all of those things at our fingertips will be amazing. But, I am not sure how we will fill the hole in our heart. The Khmer people have certainly carved out a place. We hold them dear.  And, we will miss them.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

One day, soon, I hope!

One day, I hope to be able to put aside the wishes and desires of man. Just leave them all behind, and worship and serve my God fully and completely. I know he is tired of half-hearted allegiance. And, you know, I am tired too!

That is my prayer for today, for myself. Maybe we should all try it. I think it will make today - and tomorrow - an awful lot better.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Seeing it for the first time, again.

Over the past four months, we have had family members visit us in Cambodia. It has been great to have loved ones spending time with us. We love sharing our life on the Ship of Life. It was great to introduce them to the "friends and family" who live here.

Each of our visitors have said that being here was so good for them. They had seen photos and heard stories, but nothing was as good as fully experiencing our work. I had not thought of that. When I was sending the photos and telling the stories, I saw the big picture. They did not.

But, having them see it all for the first time had a side-benefit. It allowed me to see it from fresh eyes. I was able to see and hear their response to every step of the way. There are so many things I have grown used to seeing that I don't even notice anymore. I don't notice the motorbikes stacked high with wicker shelves. I don't notice water buffalo alongside the road. I don't notice some of the crazier traffic maneuvers. These things have become "normal" to me, now. They, and so many other fascinating things, are just part of my daily life.

I suppose we are all like that. We no longer really care about the things that created such excitement, when we were children. Butterflies, robin's eggs, clouds, caterpillars, a four-leaf clover, ant hills....... We would run and share our great finds with anyone who would listen.

I can't help but think about how this same attitude applies to my spiritual life. There were so many things that I treasured, as I came to know Jesus. I was humbled by the sacrifice of God. I looked with wonder at His creation. It was all far to good to not share it. But, you know what? There are some days, now, that I don't see it. Sadly, I must admit that I take it for granted. I am not running to share anything.

Then, there are those blessed days that I get to interact with new believers. I get recharged by their fresh eyes - their fresh hearts. What a wonderful by-product of telling others about God -- we get to see him anew. We get to keep our hearts soft and our eyes fresh. Oh, what an awesome God I serve.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

What are we really exporting?

We are well into our third year of service, in Southeast Asia. In this short time, I have been surprised how much has changed. More and more western products are available on grocery shelves. There are a few more American chain businesses opening. Since summer, we have noticed a huge influx of Coca-Cola billboards, shop signs, etc., in Siem Reap. Coke has been here, but the advertising was minimal.

   When we are in a city and staying at a hotel, there are always a few American cable channels. The movies being shown aren’t always the best, but they do give us a reminder of our culture.  There are a couple of Thai cable networks that broadcast U.S.-based programming.

   As I travel through the cities and villages, I see a growing influence of western culture in Cambodia. The clothing of many teenagers is no different from their western counterparts. When we returned from our furlough, last May, I was stunned at the number of Starbuck’s shirts being worn by young men and women. They were literally everywhere. We had been gone for sex weeks! I had never seen a Starbuck’s shirt, here.  To really appreciate this overnight invasion, you should know that there are no Starbuck’s outlets in all of Cambodia.

   I am not happy about it.

   If the world’s opinion of us comes from sitcoms and reality TV, we are in a sad shape. I know, some would argue we are in a sad shape, in reality. But, I worry that we are not exporting our best – or, even our average. These beautiful young people are not only imitating our fashion. Their obsession with appearance and the “ideal,” as exhibited by Hollywood, is very apparent. A trip down the Health and Beauty Aids aisle at the grocery or market reveals row after row of lotions, creams, deodorants, and cosmetics that are designed to whiten darker skin.

   Our lives would appear to be filled with promiscuity, deception, car chases, drug use, profanity-laden tirades, venomous religious bigotry, etc. They don’t really know about wholesome families. They don’t know about spiritual

   The first year our ship came to the Tonle Sap Lake, we were pleased that most children had good teeth. They did not get the sweets and pre-packaged foods that we see along the river. That is changing. Snacks filled with sugar and fat can be found in even the smallest of villages. Many of these products come from western producers, or western companies granting production rights to Asian companies. It isn’t enough that we battle with hypertension and diabetes, we are now exporting that, too.

   If all this weren’t enough, I see western religious influences taking hold. The American church is being taken hostage by those preaching a prosperity gospel. You know the one. There are some truths presented, but neatly packaged with lies. Lies that we want to be true. We are told that God loves us and will bless us with treasures untold. (Yeah, I am with you, so far) And, those treasures are ours for the taking and enjoying, NOW. (Now, you lost me) If we live in a right way and follow the path of God, we will be blessed with earthly riches. A loving God would want no less than for us to be prosperous.

That evil message will really get the attention of a financially poverty-stricken people. But what happens next. How do the poor reconcile this message with their life? When they hear the Gospel, choose to become a Christian, and live a life refreshed and renewed?  They changed. They believed. Yet, her baby is still hungry. The toddler is sick. Her husband still beats her. The floodwaters have come. The small rice crop is lost. The chickens are dying. He suffers from a debilitating cough, but cannot afford to get to the free clinic. Where is this God of prosperity? Where is God? Was he just a story? Why would they believe anyone else who comes along talking about a loving God?

   I want to tell them that message is not true. It is not of God. I want them to know that God loves them. He will bless them. He will do so much better than taking away today’s aches and pains. I want them to know about the lives and the faith of the apostles. I want them to know about those followers closest to our Lord. I want them to know that 10 of the 12 were martyrs. They had no prosperity on earth. There was no easy way.

   I want them to hear Paul’s story of earthly prosperity and blessing, in 2 Corinthians 11:24-27. The great apostle Paul was beaten, whipped, stoned, left adrift at sea, imprisoned, hungry, thirsty, and cold. I want them to know that through all this, he counted it all joy.

   I want them to know that God is not saving us from this life. Peter said that we are blessed when we are insulted for the name of Christ, because the Spirit and glory of God rests on us. Peter tells us that if we suffer as Christians we should not be ashamed, but glorify God (1 Peter 4:14-16). They must know that God is preparing us for the next life. And, that is where we will have our prosperity.

   You know, maybe that is the message that the west needs. If it will hear that message, we won’t have to worry about their old message out here.
   Help me out. Share God’s true message at home.