Monday, July 23, 2018

"Any discussion of how pain and suffering fit into God's scheme ultimately leads back to the cross." ― Philip Yancey

                     I wrote in the blog yesterday about the cross made from the cholla cactus that was a part of Karen I added to the lectern.  What I didn't talk about was the cross that was around my neck (see picture at the right).  That cross is an Ethiopian cross that is over three hundred years old and is one that Karen bought for me over twenty years ago.  We were in the Caribbean on the island of St. Thomas, and Karen went shopping without me (my decision) and found it in an antique shop.  It seems that several hundred years ago the leader of Ethiopia declared it a Christian nation and called on all males to wear crosses around their necks.  Each cross is different depicting a different tribe or clan.  The one I was wearing for the last two Sermons from the Serengeti was worn by an Ethiopian slave who was transported to the West Indies and died there.  It was found by an archeologist, and the antique shop owner gave Karen the issue of National Geographic that showed the discovery of that cross.  Karen wanted to get it for me for my birthday in November.  This was in February, but she didn't have enough money to pay for it outright, so she put it on lay-away and promised to send the rest of the money.  She came home without it but faithfully sent money until it was paid for in June.  The shop mailed it to her, and she got it in July.  She was too excited to wait for November, so she drove from the post office straight to my office at the church and handed it to me, saying, "Happy Birthday, my love."  I've worn it ever since.
                    She was thrilled to hear about an incident that happened on my flight to New York in 2015.  I had a lay-over in Dubai and was having a meal in the lounge.  Since I was flying on a Muslim airline and in a Muslim country, I kept the cross under my shirt, out of sight.  During my meal, my waiter was obviously African, and I tried speaking to him in Swahili, but he explained that he was Ethiopian.  At this point, I unbuttoned my shirt and showed him the cross I was wearing.  He broke into a huge smile, unbuttoned his uniform shirt to show me the Ethiopian cross he was wearing around his neck.  We hugged and wished each other well, having formed a Christian bond in the middle of Muslim country.  I will wear it till I die, but hope one of my sons will continue to wear it after I am gone.  It's too good a story to let come to an end.  I think there's a sermon there, too. 

Thank to those who watched the sermon, commented, subscribed, and "liked" the video.  God bless.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

“Be the kind of person who is a joy to be around. Caring for and loving others brings out the best in you and keeps your heart open to the unspoken and deeply buried needs of others.” ― Farshad Asl

                    This week, Shaban brought me the lectern he had built out of Mninga wood (an African hardwood that is difficult to work).  Francis applied the varnish.  It looks really good and will be the main piece of furniture in my weekly "Sermons from the Serengeti" series (see picture at the right).  I really like it and added a cross made from cholla cactus which only grows in the Sonoran Desert in northern Mexico and Arizona.  Karen bought it for me many, many years ago when she went to visit her brother, John, in Phoenix (see Facebook post for picture of cholla cactus in the wild).  It was too fragile to be packed in her suitcase, so she carried it on the plane and sat with it in her lap all the way back to Arkansas.  People stared at her as she looked liked a pilgrim on the way to a shrine somewhere in the Ozarks.  It has been on the wall of every house we've lived in since then including this one, and I took it off the wall here to hang it on the lectern.  This way, a bit of Karen will always be with me when I preach from behind this lectern.  So will a bit of Africa (the wood) and the Muslim (Shaban) who has been so instrumental in keeping me alive and making sure our mission has been a success.  As I wrote yesterday, it has been Christians who have been our biggest adversaries and a Muslim who has been our greatest friend and helper.  You think there might be a sermon in that?  

  The link to the sermon itself is below.  Once again, I am alone in my take on this scripture, but that doesn't mean I'm wrong.  Listen and decide for yourself.  It’s only ten minutes long.  Just click on it, sit back and listen.  Perhaps God will speak to you through it, perhaps not.  If you also click on "Subscribe" and then the little bell icon, you will be notified whenever a new sermon is available.  Oh, and if you like it, you can click "Like."  Just sayin'

Saturday, July 21, 2018

“Right is right even if no one is doing it; wrong is wrong even if everyone is doing it.” ― Augustine of Hippo

            Someone commented on my blog from yesterday that they were glad I did the right thing even though others were trying to hurt me.  Well, as I read the news stories from the United States and around the world, I am reminded that it is a good thing to be on the moral high road.  The problem comes when you think you are on that road when you are really not.  We want to be right and that’s a good thing.  Knowing what is right is a hard thing for many, but it should not be for true followers of Christ.  He left us not only His example and His sacrifice, He left us His words in the Gospels and in Paul’s letters.  Our problem is that what Christ calls right is frequently very hard for us to do.  It is hard for us to forgive those who have hurt us, whether it was just an unkind word, or real physical harm to our person or to a loved one.  Yet others have shown us how to forgive even when the sins seem unforgivable.  If Christ could forgive those who crucified Him, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” uttered from the cross, jsurely we can forgive those who have hurt us.  Without forgiveness, there can be no healing and no peace and no progress on a journey heaven bound.  It is right to forgive, it is right to love, it is right to care, it is right to feed those who are hungry, it is right to help the homeless, the tired, those who are defenseless and orphans and widows (Christ always told us to remember them).                                 There have always been people who wanted to justify their wrong actions by saying that they were legal (slavery was once legal, wife abuse was once legal—the list goes on and on) or that everybody else was doing the same.  See the quote above by Augustine of Hippo, one of the church’s great leaders.  
                 We know it is wrong to do many things that we want to do, so we look for ways to make them right.  The trouble is that for intelligent, caring, Christian people, the truth is always front and center demanding to be seen.  Many times what is right seems wrong for us because we will suffer consequences, but Christ calls on us to suffer those consequences as He will be with us and will always give us strength and comfort.  As parents, Karen and I have often done things that were right for our children but which had negative consequences for ourselves.  The right thing to do is the right thing to do regardless of what happens to us.  How many movies have you seen where the hero or heroine has to sacrifice to do the right thing?  I bet you can name many because I can.  Yet, we never scream at the screen, “Don’t do it!  It’ll be bad for you!”  Instead, a tear may run down a cheek and the warmth of the touch of the Holy Spirit may be felt in our heart as we watch someone do a truly good thing no matter the consequences.  For the rest of your life, try to remember and use these two phrases calmly and quietly spoken: “I might be wrong.”  “You may be right.”  From here in Bunda, I can’t do a whole lot to make your lives easier, but if you begin to use these phrases, your life will be more peaceful, calm, and you will find it so much easier to forgive.  Remember to be right with love filling your heart and caring in your eyes.  The world will be a better place if you can, and Christ knows you can—He will help.

Friday, July 20, 2018

“How many observe Christ's birthday! How few, His precepts!” ― Benjamin Franklin

                     We finally won our case before the High Court of Tanzania after three years and over $5,000 in costs.  The Kenya Methodist Church through two of our former pastors had sued us, declaring that Bishop Monto was not a bishop, nor was I, that I was to be deported, and that all buildings and assets belonging to me and to the Methodist Church in Tanzania were to be handed over to the representatives of the Kenya Methodist Church.  The judge in the case gave his oral ruling two weeks ago and his written ruling just Tuesday of this week.  These people had sued us in local court and lost.  They then sued in District Court and lost.  Then they sued in Regional Court and lost.  After the regional court ruling, Tanzanian Immigration revoked all the visas of Kenyan Methodist Pastors and sent them back to Kenya prohibiting them from returning.  The Presiding Bishop of the Kenya Methodist Church sent a letter to Tanzanian Immigration demanding that I be deported.  The letter was filled with so many obvious lies (the Chief of Immigration knew me), it was laughed at, and later he showed it to me and we both laughed.  The Kenya Methodist Church had been receiving lots and lots of money from the United Methodist Church in America until their corruption had been proved many times.  In 2014, the United Methodist Church ceased all funding to Kenya and Uganda and have never sent another penny.  That's when they sued us in the High Court and lost one final time.  The judge was mad that they had caused so much money and time to be spent on a court case that could have been used to help other people and said as much in his decision.  We have had to fight many times to keep expanding the Kingdom of God here, but never against atheists, satan worshipers, or pagans.  It has always been other Methodists who have opposed us, both here and at home.  Sad, isn't it?
                  Our most recent pastor here at the Bunda Methodist Church was a man whose seminary education was paid by me.  I paid the rent on his house here, sent him money for food, and gave the church a bicycle so the pastor could do evangelism.  Last week, that pastor fled, stealing the bicycle, leaving behind his wife and a four-month-old child, and had run up $100 in debts in town claiming that I would pay.  I paid those debts, bought another bicycle, and paid the bus fare to get the wife and baby back to her home village.  Mother Teresa said: "People really need help but may attack you if you do help them. Help people anyway."  I know of no other way that makes Christ's love visible in this world.  We continue to need lots of financial help and much has fallen off over the years, but we will continue to serve, feed the orphans, keep the school running, and make disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ until the money is all gone or God calls me home.  I can do no other and still honor my beloved wife.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

“Pain and suffering have come into your life, but remember pain, sorrow, suffering are but the kiss of Jesus - a sign that you have come so close to Him that He can kiss you.” ― Mother Teresa

             In the quote above, Mother Teresa seems to be saying that it is a good thing to be kissed by Jesus.  I'm not so sure, as I think He has kissed me far too many times.  There is no greater dispenser of hard lessons than life, eh?  My faith in God has never been shaken, even when he took my beloved and darling Karen.  That is not to say that I was not hurt, angry, or extremely disappointed in how things turned out, but it seems God knows that I can endure those things.  To give us free will was to insure that in addition to the horrible things that life dealt to us, we would also do horrible and terrible things to each other as well as loving, healing, and wonderful things.  The fact that, to my mind, creation is continuing and producing earthquakes, volcanoes, tidal waves (I couldn’t spell the other word), tornadoes, and hurricanes whose swath of death and destruction seems to know no bounds is another of those hard lessons we have to learn.  We don’t have to build our houses on the beaches where hurricanes happen often, or to gather in villages in the shadow of a volcano, but we seem to do it over and over again.  We really like to have control over our lives and the lives of those we love, but it isn’t to be, is it?  We cannot control where or when lightening will strike, or where a tornado will touch down.  My wife died of a massive stroke.  She was not the first nor the last.  Many, many have suffered the loss of loved one to a massive stroke.  We cannot control who gets cancer, but we have all been touched by it.  We cannot control when a crazed gunman will open fire in an elementary school (and not just in the U.S.—Google Dunblane in Scotland, fifteen students and one teacher dead in 1996) nor can we control when a man will build a bomb and blow up a government building in Oklahoma City, killing hundreds including small children.  (When that happened, I was living in a small town in Arkansas, and a man loudly proclaimed in a public place that whenever we found out what country the bomber was from, we should annihilate the whole country with nuclear bombs.  When he found out an American had done it, he said nothing.)  My point is that we cannot insulate ourselves or build adequate protection to keep us from losing loved ones, having cancer attack our bodies, or slowly losing our memories to Alzheimers disease.  We do what we can to minimize risk: we fasten our seat belts, we build tornado shelters, we evacuate areas when hurricanes are coming, we try to eat and live healthy lives, but as Gilda Radner wrote, “It’s always something.”  
                What can we count on?  God.  God has never abandoned us, never left us alone, never failed to do whatever was possible to keep us going.  God gave His only Son to suffer and die on the cross that we should  not perish but have eternal life.  God has already made the ultimate sacrifice.  All He asks of us is to trust Him.  Maybe everything won’t be all right in this world, but it will be in the next.  Maybe He is asking us to stop thinking about ourselves and start thinking about others.  While I am hurting, I can still hear our little orphans laughing and singing.  Maybe He wants us to live lives exemplified by kindness and not hate or resentment or bitterness.  I have personally known several survivors of the Holocaust and only one was bitter and full of hate.  The others smiled and carried on with love in their hearts and a twinkle still in their eyes.  One such woman, Clara, was in one of my classes where we were studying the Book of Job.  I asked her how she could still be so positive about life after all the undeserved suffering she had endured.  She smiled, reached over and put her hand on my arm and said quietly, “God gives, God takes away, blessed be His name.”  That was all she said, but it silenced me and has given me great comfort through my own struggles, especially in the last months.  We can’t always control what happens to us, but we can always control our response to it.  Christ showed us the way.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

“Signs must be read with caution. The history of Christendom is replete with instances of people who misread the signs.” ― Sheldon Vanauken

                       It's been over eight months now since I lost the love of my life.  I haven't self-destructed (as yet), but the last eight months have been far from fun.  It seems that now I just have to figure out where God wants me to go and how to get me there.  I am not really very worried as God has always been good about giving me signs.  When I had just been at my new post as pastor of St. James United Methodist Church in Stoneham, Massachusetts (about ten miles north of Boston), for a couple of months, I got a phone call one rainy night in October, 1988.  A woman member told me her husband had just been rushed to the hospital and could I please go to be with him as she was bedridden and couldn’t go.  Of course I could, I told her.  The hospital was in the nearby town of Malden, so it shouldn’t be hard—except it was.  I grew up in West Texas where all the towns were laid out like they were on graph paper.  You could tell where you were just by looking at one sign post.  Everything was square and regular.  Not so in the Boston area where they had simply paved over old Indian trails, cow paths, and followed every stream, river, and creek.  To make things more difficult, they had a habit of not putting the street you were on up on the sign, they would just mark the side streets.  Add to that that it was night, and it was raining.  Still, I started out full of optimism.  I was right to be optimistic because every  two or three blocks there was a highly reflective blue sign with a big “H” for hospital on it with arrows to direct me.  It took almost a half hour to go just five miles, but I made it to the hospital and was able to pray with and calm the man who had a mild heart episode but would be going home the next day.  He thanked me profusely and I left.  Going home was another matter all together.  There were no big, reflective blue signs with a large “H” for home to guide me back.  Did I mention that the Boston area has more one-way streets than anyplace in the world?  Sometimes, I could see where I needed to go but I just couldn’t get there.  I drove in many circles I’m sure before I got to Highway One in Saugus.  There, I found a pay phone (this was before cell phones) and called Karen to see if she could help.  Alas, she had no maps and no clue.  While I was talking to her, I saw a highway sign that said “New Hampshire  40 miles” and I told Karen not to worry, I now knew how to get home.  You see, New Hampshire is only about an hour north of Boston and the main highway coming back into Boston from New Hampshire went straight through Stoneham where I lived.  Yes, it was a bit out of the way, but I knew how to do it.  About an hour and a half later, I pulled into my home driveway with a big smile on my face.  I had been to another state to get back to my house which was only a few miles from the hospital, but by God and thank God, I was home.  So, don’t worry, Karen, I’ll get where God wants me to go even if I have to go by way of  New Hampshire.  
                             Sometimes, God gives us big, blue signs to follow and sometimes God makes us rely on what we already know to figure things out.  Sometimes, you have to go in the opposite direction in order to get where God wants you to be.  I went to the Peruvian Amazon to end up in East Africa.  Where are you going?  Is God guiding you?  Remember, you can get there from New Hampshire.