Thursday, August 25, 2016

“At the end of the day, let there be no excuses, no explanations, no regrets.” ― Steve Maraboli

     The beginning of school always reminds me of how much I liked report cards.  No, really.  Think about it, how much in life do we get measured and graded and then told how we did?  They came at regular intervals and I could almost always hear, “You are not working up to your potential.”  I don’t know if I ever did, but I was in school for the better part of my life including four graduate schools.  Not only did the grades tell you how you were doing, they also told you how much you could improve if you tried.  Nothing else in my life was ever so regular, so constant, so trusted, or so useful.  As a pastor, only when it came time to renew your contract did you find out—not how well you were responding to God’s call—but how the people in that church liked you.  I seldom got really good reports and was fired from one church but I don’t think that had anything to do with how well I was fulfilling my duties, still, if they hadn’t told me they didn’t want me back, I wouldn’t be here.  So that, too, must have part of God’s plan even if it didn’t feel like it at the time.
     Every night when I close my eyes, I think about what it would be like if I never opened them again.  Sort of like that prayer that Elie Wiesel told me he prayed every night, “So God, how’d I do today?  Did I make you proud?  Or did I make you ashamed?”  I think about that same sentiment but not about the previous day but my whole life.  I think I could close my eyes forever and for once my report card would have nothing to say about my unrealized potential.  Over all, I think it would be good—far from perfect, but good.  Of course I have regrets, especially about the people I hurt both intentionally and unintentionally, but on the whole, I think it has been a life well lived in the service of my Living Lord.  That I open my eyes again every morning just tells me that my work here is not yet done.  There is still a connection to be made, a nudge needed by someone, maybe a scholarship to become a teacher.  I don’t know how God is using me to further His plans, but I don’t need to know—I just need to be available and obedient every day that my feet may follow the path that God has chosen for me and not the one I want to follow.  Up to now, I think God is more on the “proud” side, but I won’t know for sure until all is truly over.  All I want to hear is, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”  That will be quite enough, don’t you think?

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

“What God wants for us is always what's best for us - we just need to trust Him.” ― Lindsey Rietzsch

John is off to Mwanza for two days to work on his rural solar project.  Shaban will use his time in Mwanza to put two new tires on the front of the car, balanced and aligned.  After the incredible heat of yesterday afternoon, it was so cool this morning that fans were turned off, windows shut, and long sleeve shirts and long pants were the order of the day.  Funny place, equatorial Africa.  Still, I remember moving from Los Angeles where for eleven years, the temperature seldom changed, it almost never rained, and things seemed the same day after day.  It was not so in Northwest Arkansas.  Every day almost, my neighbor would say that it was unusually rainy, unusually hot, unusually cold, unusually windy, or we were having unusual snow that winter.  What I discovered very quickly was that in Arkansas—there was no “usual” weather and you could have all four seasons in a single week.  It is not so here.  The dry season stays dry and the rainy season stays wet.  It gets hot in the afternoon and cools off at night.  The sun comes up every day like toast in a toaster between six and seven and it goes down between six and seven every night.  Someone once asked if we had any deciduous trees, and I honestly hadn’t thought about it before, but no, there aren’t any trees here that lose their leaves.  The palm trees do drop fronds, but not till they are bare and ready for winter but to make way for new fronds that are growing.  Los Angeles helped us get ready for Africa; we just didn’t know it at the time.  
     In fact, pretty much everything we did and experienced prior to moving here prepared us for the mission God had been planning for us apparently for decades.  That’s the thing about God’s planning, it doesn’t seem to follow any hard and fast rules but does seem to always get you where God wants you to be.  In a one-act play called “Rattlesnake in a Cooler” a man realizes that what he thought had been a string of coincidences were really God just dropping him into a greased chute.  We know exactly what he means and maybe you do, too.  Our job is to do what God has set us to do in the right now and not to worry about the future.  The future is in God’s hands, and, when the time is right, you will learn why you had to do what you did in order to get you to where God wanted you to be.  We are not anywhere near where we thought we ought to be, but we now know that we are where God wants us, and there is great comfort in that.  It may not seem like you are about a mighty work of God at the moment, but trust God to make a mighty work out of whatever little you do—if you do it in His name.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

“We got a life to live, not to survive. Do the things you always want to and be the person you always desired to be. Don't let other people change who you are and how you live and love.” ― Keith McDow

     Karen does not have pleurisy, but her X-Ray did show what twenty years of second-hand smoke can do to your lungs.  Her father chain-smoked Camels until lung cancer killed him.  Her brother, Don, died the same way.  The X-Ray of Karen’s lungs should be required reading for anyone who has to put up with second-hand smoke.  The doctor was happy with the results, but when Karen came home, she said, “Well, I’m not going to die, dammit!”  I told her, well, I’m not going to tell you what I told her, but all is well, now.  She is still having pain and will until the kidney stone passes, but otherwise, she is healthy.  She made some very easy peanut-butter fudge last night and Rachel and Shaban thought it the closest to heaven they have ever come.  Shaban is going to have Karen teach his wife to make it.  He loved that you only ate a tiny bit because it was so rich.  I like it for much the same reason—and it tastes really great.
     Karen and I watched the Closing Ceremonies for the Olympics and couldn’t help but be encouraged for the future seeing all those countries together and happy.  If you haven’t seen them and can, please do.  Not only will you old folks be reminded of Carmen Miranda, but everyone will be impressed with the color and the pageantry—especially the large image of Christ portrayed, wow, it was awesome!  We can live together in  peace if we work at it.  It may just take sharing a whole lot of peanut-butter fudge, but we’re up for helping to make it.
     Some good friends in Jonesboro, Arkansas, with help from Cherokee Village started a scholarship program ten years ago to allow poor, Christian students the opportunity to attend the two years of teacher’s college and to become permanent teachers for Tanzanian schools.  Since that time, over 70 students have graduated and are teaching thanks to these wonderful gifts.  We were afraid this terrific mission project was going to come to an end with the graduation last May of our last three students.  We were very happy to hear that Cornerstone United Methodist Church in Jonesboro wanted us to continue with three more students this year.  We are just now identifying the students (have to verify that they are needy and not relatives of teachers at the college), but Karen has worked out a very good way to do that.  It may not seem like much, helping three Christian students to become teachers but think about how many thousands of children those three will influence, guide, teach, and touch.  At $500 a student for each year, it is not such a great cost, but it has a great reward.  Thank you and God bless all the good folks at Cornerstone UMC.  
     Still working on finalizing our residence permits and need to replace the front shocks on our car.  Unlike American roads (which are mostly paved), the ones here mean that shocks, brakes, tires, and windshields need to be replaced almost once a year, so it is no surprise to us.  
    In closing today, I urge you to find a recording of “What A Wonderful World” and listen to it more than once.  There’s a marvelous version by the late Louie Armstrong that I listen to almost once a week.  Now would be a good time, don’t you think?

Monday, August 22, 2016

“There is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up.” ― John Holmes

Karen, John, and Shaban have gone to Musoma.  They were late getting started because a rat had crawled into the engine area and died and the whole car stank like . . . well, like a rat had died in it.  Karen is off to get a chest X-Ray as the local hospital doesn’t have a good machine or radiologist but Musoma has both good equipment and radiologists.  She may have pleurisy or not, but we need to know.  John has a lot of rural solar work to do as he coordinates the programming of the units out in the field and there are lots of them now.  Shaban is cashing a check for me (someone had to stay home with Sissie) and paying the National Social Security Foundation for all our workers.  We also have to pay for our satellite television once a month, and we sure got our money’s worth with the Olympics in Rio.  There were so many wonderful stories there of sacrifice, of dreams coming true, of people who didn’t expect to be there, of true sportsmanship—I’m thinking of the American woman runner who went back to help a fallen competitor, and of incredible spectacle.  Hats off to Rio de Janeiro for a wonderful Olympics in spite of so very many obstacles.  The only really black mark came from some drunken American male swimmers but hopefully, their antics will be forgotten amidst all the wonderful things that happened there.  I think it’s great that every four years we get to participate vicariously in such a globally unifying event.  You wouldn’t think a global competition would bring unity, but this one really has.  I am proud of all the athletes who congratulated and helped each other and showed us in the rest of the world how things could be—if we would just let them and abandon our hate, fear, and cowardice.  What I will remember will be the winners hugging the losers and seeing the underdogs coming in first from time to time.  Gives one hope.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

“This is what the past is for! Every experience God gives us, every person He puts in our lives is the perfect preparation for the future that only He can see.” ― Corrie ten Boom

This will ultimately be about what I think is one of the most amazing stories in the Gospels that hardly ever is sermonized, but first . . . 
      In my very first part-time, learner’s permit, church appointments (I was still working full time at the University of Arkansas) I was assigned to be the part-time, local pastor of two small rural churches.  One, in Winslow, was a United Methodist Church that is still a part of my heart and members have been here in Tanzania and still support our mission.  Nothing but wonderful memories there.  The other, though, was a community church that was only Methodist on the third Sunday, and if there was a fifth one, that Sunday, too.  The other Sundays it was either Baptist or Presbyterian.  I was very familiar with the United Methodist order of worship but the order of worship at Elkins Community Church was a patchwork affair trying to keep three different denominations happy.  They also wanted to keep the standing-up/sitting-down bits to a real minimum, so everyone stood for the first hymn only and then sat for the first congregational prayer and everything else until the closing hymn.  This works only if the pastor is paying attention and isn’t brand new to pastoring in general and this church in particular.  So, not realizing I had done it, I accidentally skipped that first prayer and had everyone standing until the final hymn.  I did think it odd that the whole congregation would stand for the entire service, but as I had no experience with Baptist or Presbyterian services, I just chalked it up to my ignorance (instead of my stupidity).  The title of the final hymn was God’s way of slapping this young upstart upside the head.  The final hymn was one I had never heard before, but one I have since never forgotten.  It was, “Have You Forgotten to Pray” and I certainly had.  I apologized profusely after the service and all I heard was, “That’s okay, but only once.”   I am remembering this because in my recent bout with malaria, I did indeed forget to pray.  I was so sick, it just never occurred to me to pray for myself.  Now this brings me (kinda like a pinball game isn’t it?) to that amazing story in the Gospels.  It’s about a healing done by Jesus but that wasn’t the amazing part.  Jesus healed many, many people.  No, the story I’m talking about is the one where a sick man’s friends lowered him through a hole in the roof of a house and Jesus duly healed him—but not because of his faith.  Oh no, Jesus healed that man that day because of the faith of his friends.  It’s not the only story of Jesus healing based on the faith of others, but it is the most dramatic.  I’m mentioning it here because I am writing this as a healed man, but a man not healed because of his own faith but that of his friends.  I was too sick to remember to pray, but we work here surrounded by a cloud of faith from people all over the world who sent up prayers for my healing—and God heard them.  I am strong again not because of my faith but because of yours.  I don’t know if the man in the story was grateful or not, but I really am.  I was always dismissive of the man in the story because he didn’t have the faith to ask for healing, but, as Paul Harvey used to say, “Now I know the rest of the story.”

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

“I slept and I dreamed that life is all joy. I woke and I saw that life is all service. I served and I saw that service is joy.” ― Kahlil Gibran

     Karen and I were watching a show we usually like about people building houses in England.  We have seen shows about a war amputee and another where the husband gets cancer and dies while his wife finishes the house for her children.  The stories are usually the kind that make you feel good and you get to see cool houses.  The last one, though, left us both with bad tastes in our mouths.  It started in a predictable way, the husband had had a brain embolism and was in a coma for ten days.  According to the couple it changed their lives forever, and after he recovered they decided to build a house on the Isle of Wight (off the coast of England).  What made Karen and I dislike the show so much was that instead of seeing the world from a new way, the man and his wife saw it from their own egotistic way which is far from new.  They borrowed heavily, went into deep debt, and built a 6,000 square foot home that cost over $5,000,000 to complete.  The land alone was over a million dollars and then they had to have a swimming pool (this is England remember) and a house big enough to house a small college.  Everything had to be the very best from the faucets to the flooring.  It was as if they needed to make their own heaven here on earth.  The man talked about being Christian but there was absolutely nothing in his spending to meet his lavish desires that had anything Christian about it.  Karen and I are embarrassed to have cement floors and power and a roof that keeps the rain out.  Surrounded by huts and homes made of mud bricks, we are always aware of what we have that others don’t.  There are houses near us that have metal roofs and cement floors, but the women still have to go to a well to draw water for the day—each and every day.  Only two or three houses in a three mile radius have electricity with the rest lighting their homes with kerosene lanterns after dark.  We have one neighbor who has a solar security light, but we helped him get that.  I’ve had some near death experiences myself, but none made me want to build a huge, expensive home so that I could throw lavish parties for my friends (that was one reason given for the size of the house).  My response was to sell or give away all I had and move to Africa to spend the rest of my life helping the poor in Tanzania and to expand the Kingdom of God there.  I’m not saying this to make me look good (we have mirrors here, I know what I look like and “good” isn’t one of the adjectives anyone would use), but just to show the two extremes.  I don’t expect everyone to do what we did—the world would screech to a halt if that happened.  We need people doing their jobs and living their lives as Christian examples all over the world and right in your neighborhood.  What I’m pointing out is that this man was given a second chance at life and chose to lavish money on himself as a response.  I have strong Christian friends who make tons of money and live in huge palatial houses, but they give tons of money to others and live as examples of loving others first.  They make God smile and anyone can if they focus on others and not themselves.  It’s not about the amount of money you have or the square footage of your home, it’s about where your heart is.  The richer you are the more you can help others if Christ is abiding in your heart.  My sister is retired and is living in a nice home in a Houston suburb, but she spends time every week working with troubled young girls, and it breaks my heart to read about what she goes through and how much she loves those who life has dealt a very bad hand.  I said it yesterday in colloquial English, “It ain’t about what all ya’ll got, it’s about what ya do with it for other folks.”  That’s not my message, it’s Christ’s message.  Be the good Samaritan, love those who hate you, forgive the ones who hurt you, care for the sick, feed the hungry, clothe the naked—the stuff you know in your heart that God wants you to do.  God don’t care about how much money you have, but He do care much about what you be doin' with it.  Just sayin’ . . .