Thursday, July 27, 2017

PRAYER IS FOR THE NEEDY

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s biography, fittingly entitled “Bonhoeffer,” tells of an occasion in 1928, when Dietrich Bonhoeffer visited a church in France.  Making note of how there were so many “heavily burdened people,” and how they were naturally devoted to prayer, he remarked: "Nothing is so at odds with prayer as vanity." Indeed, prayer is for the needy.

It is the realization of our needs that drives us to our knees. Jesus told a parable of a Pharisee and a Publican. The self-righteous Pharisee prayed, not to God, but to himself, as he trumpeted his own superiority. But the Publican cried out to God, "God, be merciful to me, the sinner!" (Luke 18:9-14). The Pharisee erroneously supposed he had no needs and did not pray to God.  Very much aware of his needy estate, the Publican cried out to God for mercy.

God knows we are needy creatures. His many exhortations to us to pray speak to this: "But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God" (James 1:5); "Let us therefore draw near...that we...may find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:5); "casting all your anxiety (anxiety=worry about needs) upon Him, because He cares for you" (1 Peter 5:6).

It is quite possible for any of us to be misled regarding our true condition. The Laodicean church wrongly assumed themselves to be in "need of nothing" (Rev. 3:17). They would not have been a praying church. James chided the proud, "You do not have, because you do not ask" (James 4:2). A spirit of humility is essential to prayer. Humility is honestly assessing ourselves in view of God’s holiness and our own sinfulness. In humility we realize that God is perfect in all of His attributes and that we “fall short.”  In humility we esteem ourselves needy before Him and needy of Him.

Humility is not native to the sin-proud hearts of rebel sinners. It is by the Spirit alone that we are brought to the point of humble trust in Christ for salvation. It is by the Spirit that we now recognize our total dependence on Him. The believer in Christ is “already” perfect with regards to his position (Colossians 2:10), but “not yet”—and far from it—with regards to his practice (Philippians 3:12). An awareness of the dichotomy between the "already" and "not yet" is reason enough for us to pray. A Spirit-borne passion for growth in Christlikeness burdens our hearts and instructs our prayers (Romans 8:26-29; Philippians 1:9-11). A Spirit-borne compassion for others causes us to intercede on their behalf (Colossians 1:28; Romans 10:1; 2 Timothy 2:1-4).

Needs of every kind surround us and threaten--at times--to overwhelm us. We are needier than we think that we are.  The depth and tenacious nature of the sin problem is greater than we first realized (Romans 7:24-25). The spiritual opposition we face is stronger than we suppose (Ephesians 6:10-18). God’s purpose and plan for us in Christ is “exceeding abundantly” beyond all that we can imagine (Ephesians 3:19-21). Prayer is for the humble inasmuch as they alone appreciate the gravity and miraculous nature of the task at hand. They know that the things that need to be, cannot be, apart from God’s intervention (John 15:5).

Prayer is for the needy and for those having faith in God. "Faith is the assurance of things of things hoped for" (Hebrews 11:1). Prayer exercised in faith trusts in God and His readiness and ability to respond to our need. God says, "Ask and it shall be given to you" (Matthew 7:7). Asking is such a simple thing--a person in need asks of someone who is able to meet the need. God is able, more than able. The angel declared to Mary, “Nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37). God is indeed able "to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask" (Ephesians 3:20). He is well-pleased to respond to the requests of His grace-needy children (Romans 8:32). He is glorified in His abundant provision providing both “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.”

God exhorts us to "draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:16). Needy souls need look no further. God is on the throne—and it is a throne of grace! He knows all about our troubles. He bids us to bring them to His throne—to cast them upon Him (1 Peter 5:7). From His presence, He freely dispenses both mercy and grace. His provision flows from His inexhaustible storehouse of grace and mercy—it can never be exhausted. He will not turn His children away (James 1:5). We have the freedom to come at any time in any place with requests both great and small.

I have it in my mind that the throne of grace—like a mighty river flowing through a well-populated desert region--ought to be well-attended by countless grace-thirsty souls. But in pride, the thirsty refuse to go. They wander about frantically searching for some other source of refreshment. It is sinful pride that keeps them from the obvious. But it is the Spirit who humbles them and drives them back. And they find, in Him, “rivers of living water” to satisfy their innermost longings and needs. Are you needy? If so, prayer is for you!


Pastor Jerry

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

A TIME TO PRAY


A political election year gives rise to much debate regarding the present state and future of our country.  Given the vast array of contrary opinions on a host of matters, the climate of tension and uncertainty in our country is palpable.  People align themselves with various causes and work to vocalize their sentiments.  In an “end justifies the means” manner, political debate is generally accompanied by ugly tactics including insults, character assassination, and prediction of doom if the opposing side gets its way.  A cultural war is taking place in America and we, as believers, need to be careful how we engage in it.
The believer in Christ enjoys a dual citizenship, as a citizen of both Heaven and America (Philippians 3:21).  But the value and responsibilities associated with the one far outweigh the transitory benefits of the other.  My citizenship in Heaven is eternal.  My citizenship in this country is for as long as I’m here on earth, or until such time that America is no more.  Our country is a physical entity in which I enjoy certain freedoms and rights and a degree of earthly protection.  The Church is the blood-bought bride of Christ.  It is destined to eternal glory.  Its mandate since its inception has been to bear witness of Jesus (Acts 1:8).
Just before His ascension, Jesus had these parting words for His disciples: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  These parting words of our Lord represent the marching orders for His church.  But Jesus addressed the matter in terms associated with our limitations—the fulfillment of the mission is dependent on the empowerment of the Spirit.  Jesus had previously spoken of such things, “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness of Me, and you will bear witness also” (John 15:26-27).  The Spirit works to bear witness of Jesus and He bears witness through us.
Peter wonderfully illustrates the truth of this dynamic.  We read in the gospel accounts of Peter in his three-fold denial of His Lord (Luke 22:54-62).  He denied even knowing Jesus (Luke 22:57).  He denied Jesus to a slave-girl.  Before that, when Jesus was laboring in prayer, submitting Himself to the Father’s will (Matthew 26:39), Peter and the disciples were sleeping.  Jesus responded by saying, “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).  The truth of Jesus’ words was borne out in Peter’s experience.  The flesh was indeed weak.  Jesus was arrested.  Cowardly Peter denied ever knowing His Lord.
But it is a different kind of Peter, a courageous one, which we read about in Acts chapter 2.  As Jesus had promised, the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples.  And Spirit-empowered Peter responded by boldly bearing witness of Jesus before a great multitude of people.  There was no shrinking back or fear or timidity in that first sermon; instead, he did just what he was told to do, He bore witness of Jesus.  And if you examine the second half of Peter’s sermon (the first half was an explanation as to why the disciples were speaking in tongues), you will find that that sermon was all about Jesus—His life, His death, His resurrection, and ascension (Acts 2:22-36). 
The gospel message of salvation through faith in the One who died for sins and rose from the dead is there in that first sermon (Cf. 1 Corinthians 15:3-4).  And after the message was preached, people were Spirit-convicted of their sin.  Three thousand souls were saved and the church was born.  What happened on that day established a template for what God expects from us, His ambassadors here on earth (Cf. 2 Corinthians 5:20).  We are here for a short while to bear witness of Jesus by our lives and with our lips.  But we can only do that as we are led and empowered by the Spirit of God.  There is no suitable substitute for the inner working of the Spirit.  As Jesus said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing” (John 6:63).  That doesn’t mean, of course, that we won’t try to fulfill our mission mandate through fleshly means.  Entertainment, church growth methodologies, and various techniques have all been tried.  But God has made the matter very simple—we are to bear witness of Jesus and we do that through the leading and empowerment of the Holy Spirit.  By that God-approved means, the gospel has spread from Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.  It has spread in spite of suppression, opposition, threats, and persecution.  People have made great sacrifices and, sometimes, suffered martyrdom that they might take the gospel message to people who needed to hear.
Those folks understood these realities.  They had a godly worldview through which they gauged the affairs of men.  God is our creator.  Sin is the problem.  Jesus is the Savior.  These truths stand whether they are believed or not.  They stand today.  We sometimes have difficulty getting to the root of a problem.  There is a debate ongoing whether we should call the terrorist threat we face “radical Islam.”  And some argue that we need to clearly identify the threat.  But at the heart of that threat and every other threat and problem is the problem that besets us all, sin.  Sin is the universal problem that is at the root of every problem. We are born into this world with a heart to sin (Romans 5:12).  And from that heart of sin flow a host of problems.  As Jesus said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders” (Matthew 15:19).
There is only one God-approved and tried-true remedy for sin, and that is the gospel.  Politics, education, psychology, economics, social engineering, peace-initiatives, interventions, and any other human effort to resolve that which ails man cannot work to resolve what lies at the heart of man’s problem. The gospel alone can do that.  We are born sin rebels, thinking that we can somehow get along fine apart from our Creator, but that’s not true.  Something must be done to save sin rebels from their doomed cause.  The only thing that can do that is “the glorious gospel of the blessed God” (1 Timothy 1:11), which is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).  This matter of first importance (Cf. 1 Corinthians 15:3), the message of Christ’s death for sin and resurrection from the dead is “of sin the double cure,” cleansing both of “guilt and pow’r” (“Rock of Ages”).
In this regard, I’m concerned for myself and my fellow Ambassadors for Christ.  Amidst all the rancor and insults, I wonder how effective we are in fulfilling our mission mandate.  I’m pretty sure that no souls will be saved as a result of anyone’s complaining about the current state of affairs.  America is as needy as it has ever been, but the problems are not mainly political or economic—they are moral.  We live at a time in a country that bears responsibility for the murder of 60 million of its most innocent and vulnerable citizens.  Truths regarding our Creator cannot be taught in school classrooms by and to those who were created by Him.  We are so bold as to attempt to redefine God’s definition of what constitutes a marriage.  And we are so prideful and arrogant in all of this, that we believe we will face no evil consequences for such things.  These are all symptoms which speak to the reality of sin, the consequence of the Romans 1:18-32 dynamic.  The gospel alone can work to rescue anyone out of that downward spiral. Secular politicians have no heart to address a moral problem that they themselves don’t understand.  The only God-approved solution for what ails us all is Jesus.
We are prone to fight the wrong battles with the wrong weapons.  If “our struggle is not against flesh and blood,” why do we fight against flesh and blood (Cf. Ephesians 6:12)?  We are engaged in a spiritual struggle for souls—ours and our fellow man’s.  If “we do not war according to the flesh,” why do we attempt to engage the wrong enemy and in our human strength (Cf. 2 Corinthians 10:4)? Would it not be better to utilize the weapons which are “divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses” (2 Corinthians 10:4)?  Faith in God, the Word, and prayer are weapons empowered by God Himself.  They are “nuclear-bomb-like” in comparison to the humanly-wimpy weapons we so often prefer.  Slander, insults, and character assassinations will not work to win any of God’s battles.  They are not in His arsenal.  They will not work to move the hearts of men to look to Jesus.  They can do nothing to resolve what lies at the heart of man’s problems.  God forgive me in my foolhardy efforts to utilize them!
We have a problem in the modern day church.  We like to point the finger at some human entity and say, “Therein lies the problem.”  But as our Moms taught us, we need to be careful when we point the finger at someone, because there are three more pointing back at ourselves.  It is time for the church to take personal responsibility for things.  According to His mission mandate, Jesus has purposed to use us, His ambassadors, to bear witness of Him until the time of His return.  The church of the living God is “the pillar and support of the truth” in this world (Cf. 1 Timothy 3:15).  It is not the government.  It is not the school system.  That privileged position is not invested in the worldly rich and powerful.  The church is that.  The church is here now to have an influence for good in this world, to be, as Paul put it, “children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life” (Philippians 2:15-16a).  If society is slipping, it will do no good to point to lost souls and put the blame on them.  They are no different than we once were and how we are still prone sometimes to behave.  They are lost.  To expect lost people to lead and behave as saved people is oxymoronic.
In taking responsibility, we need to get back to basics.  We’ve been given a mission and we err when we lose track of it or of the resources that have been availed to us that we might fulfill it.  Years ago, noted theologian Francis A. Schaeffer spoke to this: “The central problem of our age is not liberalism or modernism, nor the old Roman Catholicism or the new Roman Catholicism, nor the threat of communism, nor even the threat of rationalism and the monolithic consensus which surrounds us.  All these are dangerous but not the primary threat. The real problem is this: the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, individually and corporately, tending to do the Lord’s work in the power of the flesh rather than of the Spirit. The central problem is always in the midst of the people of God, not in the circumstances surrounding them.”
The central problem is not “them” or our circumstances, the problem lies in our midst.  And our attention, energy, and struggle should be directed towards resolving this particular problem.  In looking towards a solution, it is again wise for us to look back to our roots.  For the early church, in fulfilling their mission mandate, soon met with fierce opposition.  The same Peter who boldly bore witness of Jesus in his first sermon was arrested with John by a group of powerful religious leaders.  He would not be moved from proclaiming the truth and said to them, “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).  The religious leaders marveled at their confidence (Acts 4:13), but nevertheless, commanded them to “not speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18).  After threatening Peter and John further, they let them go and Peter and John returned to their companions.
And do you know what they did?  They didn’t instigate an insurrection.  They didn’t hold a sit-in or political rally.  They didn’t plan a boycott.  They didn’t hurl insults at their oppressors.  What did they do?  They prayed.  And their prayer was not what we might suppose.  They praised God, the Creator of all things (Cf. Acts 4:24).  They quoted from Scripture in prayer, reminding themselves that God has spoken beforehand of the circumstances they were facing (Cf. Acts 4:25-26).  They praised God in His sovereignty over the affairs of men and how He even used evil rulers to accomplish His divine purposes (Cf. Acts 4:27-28).  And what did they ask of God?  Did they ask for God to deliver them from these evil rulers?  Did they ask that God would keep them from adversity?  Did they ask for God to somehow straighten out this mixed up world?  No, they only asked that they would be emboldened and that opportunities would be availed to them in the witness of the gospel.  And what happened?  God shook the earth and God emboldened them by the Spirit (Cf. Acts 4:31).  And the church was encouraged and the church progressed and was ultimately used by God to turn that part of the world upside down (Cf. Acts 17:6).  A careful examination of Scripture will reveal that all of that which God has given for us to do is to be done “by the Spirit.”  In His Christ-glorifying ministry, the Spirit mediates Jesus to us, in us, and through us (Cf. John 16:14).  He keeps us focused and in love with Jesus.  He fills us with love, joy, peace, hope, and a host of other supernatural virtues (Cf. Galatians 5:22, Romans 15:13).  He burdens us with compassion for lost souls and a willingness to sacrifice of ourselves in love in Jesus’ name.  We are led and empowered in all these things—and much more—by the Holy Spirit.  The formula, then, is pretty simple: by the Spirit, we bear witness of Jesus; apart from the Spirit, we cannot--at least not in an effective way.
It’s time to pray.  It’s time for each of us to pray.  It’s time to pray in our church gatherings.  It’s time to join with other like-minded believers in other churches to pray.  And what should we pray?  Should we pray only for our health and safety and for a political situation that meets with our approval and is to our earthly advantage?  As heavenly citizens and ambassadors for Christ should we not pray for ourselves, in our walk with Jesus, and for our marriages and families and for our churches?  Should we not pray that we might be led and empowered by the Spirit to continue on in the legacy of our forebears who bore witness of the gospel amidst far more difficult situations than our own?  Should we not, before the throne of grace, join with our persecuted brethren who pray, not so much for their personal safety, but instead that they might be faithful and courageous in bearing witness of the Risen Christ? Should we not pray for lost souls?  Should we not pray for the church, the pillar and support of the truth?  Nehemiah heard of the broken down walls of Jerusalem and “wept and mourned for days…fasting and praying before the God of heaven” (Nehemiah 1:4).  Look there, beloved, the pillars and support of truth in the church in America are cracked and crumbling.  Grieve over it and take the matter to the Lord in prayer.  There are souls in danger.  We’ve got the truth the lost need to hear lest they face eternal judgment.  We cannot do what needs to be done in our own strength.  The mission is too big.  The opposition is too strong.  We are too weak.  We need power from above.  It’s time to pray.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

THE START OF SCHOOL

On January 11th of this year 4 teachers and 20 students met in Kabaale Village for the first day of school at Faith Bible School.  They were joined by Paul Mwesigwa (Africa Director of Hope and Mercy Mission).  The day had been much anticipated and there was a lot of excitement amongst the group.

We received this report from Paul Mwesigwa regarding the first couple of days: “We had a great start…Today being the reporting day, we started a little bit late but by 10am we had all the students. The teachers started with orientation and then each made an introduction to the lesson topics… The pastors (students) had selected among themselves a leadership team. With a class captain, prayer leader, welfare. I was able to meet with each teacher to assess their comments and all seems to have worked perfectly for each…Day 2 was great and better, unlike yesterday, everything was on time. There are great testimonies from the students already and they can’t stop thanking you for obeying the voice of God and start a school. Last night I was able to visit with a few of them and they shared how the school had started in high gear already focusing on those important things they want to learn.”

The school meets at Sunrise Christian school in Kabaale Village for one week per month.  This allows the pastors to continue to serve in their ministries and care for their families while they attend.  Students meet Monday through Friday for a period of one year (Certificate of Biblical Studies) or two years (Diploma of Church Ministry).  They receive instruction in the following: Bible Knowledge (including an overview of both the Old and New Testaments); Bible Study Methods; Christian history; Bible Doctrines; Personal Spiritual growth; Biblical Ministry Practice; English Language.

A lot of planning and preparation went into establishing the school.  As Pastor Bob Emrich (US Director of Hope and Mercy Mission and pastor of Emmanuel Bible Baptist Church0 explains, the school has been established to meet the specific needs of these pastors: “During the past seven years, we have worked with pastors in many villages of the Masaka region. It has been a great joy and blessing to witness the desire to honor the Lord among these pastors. Very often with little or no formal education, and without an adequate knowledge of how to interpret Scripture, these pastors have faithfully preached the gospel and have given themselves to establishing local churches. Other pastors from the US have worked with us and bear witness to the same things. We have helped distribute Bibles and discipleship materials alongside these pastors. We have hosted Bible teaching and training conferences at least annually over the last seven years. We have been privileged to help pastors in five geographical areas to form alliances with one another for encouragement and shared ministry. We have sent some pastors to schools close to the area, but have found it difficult to follow up with them during the process. While these efforts have helped to provide wonderful results in the churches, it is very clear to us that they are not enough. The pastors have a great need and strong desire for a deeper understanding of the Word and the Work of God. We also believe that good stewardship requires us to use available finances more efficiently. Thus we are convinced that God is directing us to establish a Bible Training Institute in the region.  Because of the economy of the region, it is unreasonable to expect pastors to leave home to attend school for a prolonged length of time. The churches in the region are unable to provide for the financial needs of the pastors and their families. Therefore, the pastors must be home to continue caring for their family’s needs.”

According to this plan we have worked together with the alliances to select both the teachers and the students for the school.  Again, as Pastor Bob explains, the school has been established according to the model that we find in Scripture: “Our intention is to begin with the foundational principle of 2 Timothy 2:2; “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” Our plan is to continue spiritual mentoring of three or four faithful men who have demonstrated spiritual maturity, gifts and abilities to serve as teachers. The work of these men will be supplemented by occasional visits by pastors from the US. We will provide, as God enables us, necessary guidance, curriculum and materials for these teachers and their students. We will do our best, by God’s grace, to provide a stipend for those chosen to teach.

Four well-qualified men gladly responded to the call to serve as teachers.  These men are not only well-qualified spiritually, they have a lot of experience and have demonstrated both the desire and ability to teach and lead.  All four—Pastor Henry; Pastor Grace; Pastor Titus; Pastor Joel—currently serve as pastors.   A limit was set at 20 students for this first year of the school.  The 5 pastor alliances each selected four students.  These students all currently serve as pastors.

There was a need for funds to cover the costs of the school for its first year.  God provided all that was needful and sometimes in a surprising way.  At the end of last year there was still the need for $500 of the needed $5000.  Pastor Bob visited a small church last December to give an update of the ministry of Hope and Rescue Mission.  They had been previously praying regarding how they might use the $500 of money they had set aside for missions.  When they heard about the ministry of Faith Bible School and the need for $500 they gladly donated it to that cause!  On a more recent occasion an additional $2500 of unanticipated startup costs were covered in one unexpected gift.

Materials for the various courses of instruction have either been prepared or provided by Pastor Bob or me.  Some of the things that we’ve used before are being incorporated (i.e. spiritual disciplines study; First Steps with Jesus book; Bible Study Methods materials).  We’ve been busy writing some of the other lessons and tests.

Thank you for your prayers for Faith Bible School.  Pray that God might lead the teachers in all that they do that they might do a good job in their teaching.  Pray that the students might learn well and work to apply what they learn in their ministries.  Pray for Pastor Bob and I as we continue to provide and prepare materials.  And for Pastor Bob and Paul Mwesigwa as they oversee the ministry.   Praise God for His provision and direction in getting the school started!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

2015 UGANDA MISSION TRIP

The missionary journey from Astoria, Oregon to Kabaale Village, Uganda is a long one.  But not far-at-all in comparison to the journey that our Savior made when He left heaven’s glory for this sin-cursed place when He came into the world to save sinners.  Though He was rich, for our sakes He became poor that we, through His poverty, might become rich (Cf. 2 Corinthians 8:9).  As His ambassadors we are privileged to bear witness, wherever we are, of Him and His great sacrifice for our sins. 
Our team from LCBC flew out of Seattle on Friday, October 23rd and returned to Astoria two weeks later.  It was my seventh trip to the village.  I was joined by my wife, Laura, and two teens, Sayla and Anna Davis.  It was Laura’s second trip and Sayla and Anna’s first (and their first time flying).  We had a layover in Amsterdam where we met up with the other eight members of our team, all from Maine (Pastor Bob Emrich, Julie Smith, Tiani Smith, Sue Hoffman, Nancy Van Dyke, William Cole, Zachary Cole, and Jan Wood). All but Will had been to Kabaale Village before.

We arrived in Entebbe late Saturday night and then drove to Kampala where we spent the night.  On Sunday morning we visited Glorious Church in Kampala and Pastor Bob Emrich gave the message.  Other members of our team conducted children’s ministry in the church.  It is a very large church, unlike the ones we minister to in the villages. We arrived in Kabaale later that day and were launched off into our various ministries the next morning. 

PASTOR CONFERENCES

The chief task of Pastor Bob and myself was to conduct the pastor conferences.  What began as a ministry to a couple dozen pastors in one pastor’s alliance six years ago has expanded to include over 200 pastors in five different alliances.  To ease the traveling burden of the pastors we conducted three different conferences in three different locations.  Each of the conferences was well attended by eager listeners.  Pastor Bob and I took turns sharing from God’s Word.  The main theme of the conferences had to do with serving Jesus from the heart.  Pastor Bob spoke of the hazards associated with legalistic religion as opposed to living and serving according to the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.  He also shared from 1st Thessalonians regarding the characteristics of a model church and a model pastor (using the example of the Apostle Paul).  My messages were mostly pertaining to the person and work of the Holy Spirit.  This is a study that I’ve done recently both in Sunday School and in the morning messages.  I was especially blessed in preaching a message I entitled “The Miracle of Pentecost.”  The gist of that message was about how God birthed the church in miraculous fashion.  Previously cowardly Peter was made courageous and previously hardened hearts were convicted by the power of the Holy Spirit.  The church was borne according to Jesus’ promise, not as a result of human planning or effort, but by intervention of the Spirit who empowered ordinary and imperfect people to do things that they never could have done on their own.  Along the way, in preaching that message, I came up with this quote: “The life and ministry of the believer lies in the realm of the miraculous.  It is impossible for any of us to do what God has given us to do in the power of the flesh.  We are miraculously born again by the Spirit and by the Spirit, in a similarly miraculous way, we grow and serve and do everything else God has given us to do.”

In another message I worked through the passages in John chapters 14-16 having to do with Jesus’ promise to His disciples regarding the soon-coming Spirit.  The main points of that message were simple—the Holy Spirit is a Divine Person who indwells every believer in Christ.  He is the Helper and the Spirit of Truth.  His ministry is to exalt Christ.  We can discern a work of the Spirit in this way—His work is always in accord with the truth; His work is not to draw attention to Himself, but to Jesus Christ.

Our messages to the pastors raised questions, and Bob and I would respond by going to the Scriptures for answers.  The pastor’s wives were invited to join their husbands for the final day of each conference.  This is something that we hadn’t done before.  In a morning session the women met with women from our team.  The wives rarely have an opportunity to meet like this, so it was a good opportunity for them to voice some of their difficulties and concerns.  Ladies from our team, including Laura, were a part of this ministry to the pastor wives.  Laura enjoyed encouraging the wives, by way of her experience as a pastor’s wife, in how best to respond to the various challenges they face.  After lunch the wives joined the husbands and Pastor Bob spoke to the couples regarding oneness in marriage and how it relates to life and ministry.  He caused a bit of a stir in one of the conferences.  The husbands were all sitting in the front of the church and the wives in the back.  He had the husbands leave their seats to find their wives so that they could sit beside them instead.  It was a good opportunity to reinforce the matters to which he was speaking.

At the end of every conference we heard reports of how the pastor alliances were doing.  The chairman would report on ministry accomplishments and challenges.  The reports shared some of the same themes.  The alliances were experiencing much unity, and when not, were working to address the cause of their disagreements.  The pastors were working together to conduct outreach ministries and prayer sessions.  When a pastor had a particular need other pastors would work together to help.  In one instance the pastors assisted a pastor whose building had fallen down.  In another instance, a pastor’s wife had died, so the pastors worked together to come along side and help.  We heard in their reports of the progress made with respect to the piggery projects.  And they spoke of the various challenges that they faced and steps that were being made to deal with these challenges.  These reports were incredibly encouraging!  We addressed the various alliances and presented them with some gifts (notebooks, pens, gifts for pastor’s wives, First Steps with Jesus books, Luganda gospel tracts) and financial assistance.  We also spoke to them of the startup of Faith Bible School (more on that later). 

Rain delayed the start of the last day of the last conference.  But after a great, albeit hurried, afternoon of ministry, our team joined with the pastors and wives to share in the Lord’s Supper.  Pastor Henry and I alternately read various Scriptures passages.  Pastor Bob and Pastor Joseph joined the two of us in leading the congregation in prayer.  We then spoke to how God has worked through Christ’s death on the cross to join us all—regardless of nation or color or language—to His body, the church.  And how we anticipate the day of His return when we will be gathered together around His throne in worship of the Lamb who was slain, who is worthy (Cf. Revelation 5:9).  It was a fitting conclusion to the last of the three pastor conferences. 

Right after the conference a pastor and his wife and baby sought me and Bob out.  They asked if we remembered them from a previous visit several years ago.  Pastor Bob and I had visited their church—“What Doctors Cannot Do Jesus Can Church.”  We met the Pastor, Immanuel, and his wife, Gertrude.  They asked us to pray for them as they had been twelve years without child.  And so, at the end of the conference, with big smiles on their faces they introduced Bob and me to their baby, which they had appropriately named “Miracle.” They were so happy—and praising God—for their miracle baby!

FAITH BIBLE SCHOOL

Hope and Mercy Mission is working on establishing a Bible School for pastors.  The announcement to the various alliances regarding this effort was met with enthusiastic response.  The school will enlist four English-speaking, well-qualified, Ugandan teachers.  These men have all served in ministry and teaching roles for many years.  In its first year, 20 students will attend—four from each alliance.  Their course of instruction will include classes in Bible Survey, Bible Doctrines, Bible Study Methods, Leadership Principles, and Personal Spiritual Growth.  There will also be English and computer classes.  The school will meet for one week per month at Sunrise School in Kabaale Village.  Pastor Bob and I are either providing or preparing the curriculum for the school.  The school will start in January 2016.  God has already provided much of the necessary funding for the school (but if you’d like to help visit the Hope and Mercy Website and designate a donation to Faith Bible School; hopemercymission.com).  One of the great needs of the pastors in the region is to be better equipped to study and teach God’s Word.  Faith Bible School can work to address this particular need in a profound and expansive manner.  Please join us in praying for God’s blessing on this important and strategic ministry.

CHILDREN’S MINISTRIES

Under Laura’s supervision, Sayla & Anna Davis and Julie & Tiani Smith were involved in ministry to children in three different schools.  They all conducted their ministry with great enthusiasm and devotion.  These schools varied in size from several hundred to five hundred plus.  Sayla and Anna have had much experience in teaching 5-Day Clubs using Child Evangelism Fellowship materials.  They taught the lessons regarding the wordless book to the children.  Children from the LCBC AWANA club raised funds to buy the materials for wordless book colored bracelets.  They also helped to put them together in packets so that they would be ready to distribute to the children.  Besides the lessons, the team also led the children in songs and games and verse memorization.  As always, the children were eager to learn and participate.  On one occasion, because of rain, the team was delayed for hours in making their way to a school.  The school children had been disappointed-- thinking that their friends from America would not come--but were then overjoyed when the team finally arrived later that afternoon.  The children in all the schools were very glad to receive the bracelets.  And many in the three schools responded to the invitation to receive Jesus as Savior.   

OPERATION CHRISTMAS CHILD

Our team was privileged and blessed to be a part of an Operation Christmas Child shoebox distribution in Kabaale Village.  About 500 children were there.  Big boxes full of shoeboxes had been brought.  Discipleship booklets were passed out.  The team worked to distribute the shoeboxes to the children according to age and gender.  There was much anticipation as Paul Mwesigwa did the countdown—three, two, one and a half, one—then finally the children excitedly opened up their boxes.  There was much joy and plenty of smiles as the children dug into their boxes full of gifts.  We learned something about good and not-so-good gifts in that experience.  Many boxes contained toothpaste, and while a toothbrush might be a good idea, toothpaste will only last so long and many children won’t know what to do with it.  The operation of some toys was not easily or readily understood.  We need to think of such gifts from the standpoint of a child who has never had a toy or operated anything with moving parts.  Balls and dolls make good gifts, as do simple toys that need little or no explanation.  Clothing is good, but sometimes boxes had clothing items that were at the low end of the age range—too small for the recipient.  Better to err on the side of being too big as the child can then grow into it.  Some boxes contained stocking caps.  The children will probably use them, but there is not so much need for stocking caps in Uganda and there is no way to know exactly to what climate a shoebox might go.  After the distribution the team helped to clean up things.  It was a great experience!

DRESSES AND T-SHIRTS

Churches in Maine and Oregon both worked to prepare dresses for girls in Uganda.  LCBC ladies worked hard in a series of workshops to make over 100 dresses.  Some of these dresses, along with some T-shirts for boys, were distributed to the children of People of the Way church.  That little church was overflowing with expectant girls, boys, Sunday School teachers, and church leaders.  We lined up the girls and boys from small to tall and distributed to them the T-shirts and dresses.  There was much energy and excitement in that little building as the clothing items were handed out.  After the distribution we had opportunity to view the progress being made on the construction of a new building for People of the Way Church (LCBC has given funds to help with this project).  The brick walls have risen substantially in height and good progress is being made. 
Emmanuel Bible Baptist Church ladies made hundreds of dresses for the girls in Sunrise School.  With help from teachers and team members, Sue Hoffman led in the distribution of the dresses on the morning of our departure.  There was time for the girls, group by group, to change into the dresses.  Shouts of joy and excitement overflowed from the school as the girls received their beautiful dresses.

HOME VISITS

The team made dozens of visits to homes.  First timers were amazed regarding the hospitality of those that they were visiting.  Though they lived in quite humble circumstance, they were always eager to have visitors come to their dwellings.  Team members would go to these homes and provide food staples and other items.  They would ask for permission to share the gospel and leave Lugandan gospel tracts and First Steps with Jesus books.  In many occasions folks responded to the gospel, receiving Jesus.  On one occasion, as Laura was sharing the gospel, a man passed by on the path in the front of the home.  He heard the second half of what Laura was saying, but asked if he could hear the first part.  The team shared the gospel with him and he received Jesus.  Later he came to the Operation Christmas Child shoebox distribution.  He brought his little 3 year old daughter.  She hadn’t been able to speak at all.  Nancy determined that the little girl cannot hear.  Pray for the Dad that he will be able to find help for her.

Nancy visited Ronald (12) on one of our first days there.  He was bedridden and suffering from life-threatening bed sores.  Later Jan joined Nancy on a visit and together they discussed what needed to be done.  It was later through the father that we learned the rest of Ronald’s story.  One day at school, months ago, Ronald began to suffer a paralysis.  It grew to the point that he was no longer able to walk.  The family proceeded to seek medical help.  They took him to the hospital but they couldn’t identify the source of his problems.  Over the course of weeks and at much expense they sought help from other doctors, but to no avail.  Distressed and losing hope they went to the witchdoctors.  They likewise were of no help, and as a result of these visits Ronald was thought to be demon-possessed.  The distressed father took Ronald to a pastor.  The pastor and the congregation swept up dirt from the floor of the church and put it on Ronald’s wounds, promising that it would bring healing.  Ronald told this story to Paul Mwesigwa, Justine, Nancy, Jan, and myself.  With medical records in his hands and tears in his eyes he explained how he had tried everything that he could to help his son, but to no avail.  They had lost all hope.  After much discussion, we decided on a course of action.  I spoke to the father about the woman who had spent all that she had on doctors in looking for a cure, but was finally healed when she touched the hem of Jesus’ garment.  I asked him if he was willing to forsake the witchdoctors and trust Jesus to heal his son inside and out.  We decided that we would help him by paying the costs for a doctor to attend to his son’s immediate health needs, if he would be willing to do that.  He said yes.  Some days later Nancy, Will, and Zach went back to the house.  Will and Zach installed a trapeze so that Ronald could pull himself out of his bed.  Nancy had already made other visits and befriended Ronald.  He even called her “Mom.”  But on that day—when Will and Zach were there—they shared the gospel with the family.  And they all received Jesus!

MINISTRY TO MIDWIVES

Janice Wood is a nurse and in her trips to Uganda she has ministered in particular to the midwives.  She works with 5 midwife groups, each having from 8-10 women.  In spending time with them she discussed the various problems they were confronting in assisting pregnant women, things like hemorrhage, infection, and eclampsia.  She spoke to them of specific solutions for each and provided training to screen for proper blood pressures.  She also gave them instruction regarding when they should seek outside medical assistance.  The midwives were glad for the gifts of gloves and various medicines that were provided.  They were also glad to receive the Lugandan gospel tracts and First Steps with Jesus booklets.  These generated much discussion amongst the midwives as they read about the good news.  Jan also worked in the clinic.  On one occasion a man seriously cut his leg with a hoe.  She was able to clean and dress his wound.  She helped others in the clinic with problems like high blood pressure and ulcers.

SEWING WORKSHOP

Sue Hoffman has worked hard in recent years to establish a sewing workshop in Kabaale Village.  Treadle sewing machines have been provided.  Sue has led students in learning how to sew.  The ministry helps in two ways.  The students learn how to sew uniforms for the students in the school, alleviating the need to purchase the uniforms elsewhere.  It also provides for the seamstresses an income source.

OTHER ASSISTANCE

Will and Zach have a lumber company in Maine.  They were glad to help with related projects—albeit with far less tools—in the village.  They built and painted some picnic tables for the school.  It was thought that that project would take many days—but they were finished building them in just a few.  Once painted they looked beautiful.  They also worked to cut up some firewood (used all-the-time for cooking). 

GIFTS GIVEN AND RECEIVED

We’ve been given some gifts in our visits to churches and ministries to pastors.  On a previous visit to a church Heather, Zach and I were given a goat.  Since we weren’t able to stay for dinner after church the pastor and wife gave us some bananas and a goat.  So we decided to name the goat “To Go.”  And I’m happy to say—and Heather will be glad to know—that To Go is still happy and is fatter than he was before.  On the morning of our departure another gift—a goat—was delivered to us by the pastor alliance.  Bob named the goat “Deacon.”  I’m not sure if it is named after any particular deaconJ.  But now we have two goats in the village—along with some chickens (though I don’t think their life expectancy is very long). 

But there are other things we have received in our visits.  Some might erroneously suppose that we go there and give without receiving, but that is hardly the case.  The Ugandans are generous in their poverty.  They are so very thankful for everything they receive, not just to us but to the ultimate source, God Himself—from whom proceeds “every good gift and every perfect gift” (James 1:17).  They give not only their thanks but invaluable lessons regarding the things that truly matter.  They may be impoverished, but they are rich in faith and generous in love.  One of my favorite Ugandan phrases is “Jesu Amala,” which means “Jesus in enough.”  It’s more difficult for those living in prosperity to live according to this reality.  In dirt-floor churches having no windows or doors they gather to worship the One who was rich but became poor that they might become rich.  They might be poor in one sense, but in Christ they possess “unsearchable riches” (Cf. Ephesians 3:8; Revelation 2:9).  They are rich in the things that truly matter!  I’m glad that they consider us to be their friends.  And that God has privileged us all to have a part in ministering some assistance to them.

PRAYERS ANSWERED

Thank you for praying for us!  We were incredibly blessed in so many ways.  We experienced great teamwork.  God provided for us a wide open door for ministry.  Many responded to the gospel message.  The pastors were attentive to what was being taught.  Church leaders and members were helped and encouraged.  And God taught us invaluable lessons that will prove helpful in serving Him.  Thank you too for your continued prayers for the pastors and churches.  They face many challenges, but God is at work in the Masaka Region and He is “able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20).
Webale Nnyo!

Thank you very much!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

ONE CONTRARY VOICE

What do you do if you, as a Christian, are called upon by governing authorities to do something that is in violation of your conscience?  What used to be a theoretical question about something foreign to our experience--reserved for Bible School debate or Sunday School discussions--is increasingly becoming a distinct possibility or reality for the Bible-believing Christian in America.

Believers are to submit themselves to the governing authorities.  That is the clear teaching of Scripture (Cf. Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14).  But when asked to do something that is clearly immoral or unethical, the Christian has no choice but to reluctantly refuse and obey God rather than man (Cf. Daniel 6:1-10; Acts 4:18-20).  Church history is filled with examples of people who chose to do so, in spite of whatever opposition and threats they faced.  I recently came across one such example.  Here’s the story…

It was later deemed the Aktion T4 program.  The name T4 was an abbreviation of the address of a villa in Berlin which was the headquarters of the “Charitable Foundation for Curative and Institutional Care."  But there was nothing charitable or curative about the program.  The program was borne of a “trial” case in which a family petitioned the Nazi government to put their blind and disabled son to death.  The boy was evaluated by Hitler’s personal physician, Karl Brandt, and was killed in July of 1939.  Hitler then instructed Brandt to proceed in a similar manner in similar cases.  Three weeks after the boy’s death, The Reich Committee for the Scientific Registering of Hereditary and Congenital Illnesses was established.  Secret killing of infants began in 1939 and increased after the war started.  From August 1939, the committee began registering children with disabilities, requiring doctors and midwives to report all cases of newborns with severe cases.  Those identified or suspected to have serious hereditary diseases, malformations, or disabilities were to be killed.  Tens of thousands of children were eventually murdered under the program, and for a while, the government hid it from the public.  

Lest we suppose this kind of thing to be a moral anomaly, impossible in our day, consider the views of Bioethicist Peter Singer (A Princeton professor, abortion advocate, and animal rights activist).  In a radio interview on April 16th, he argued that it would be “reasonable” in some circumstances for the government and private health insurance companies to deny treatment – even life-saving treatment – for infants with disabilities.  He’s not the only one that thinks that way.  The founder of the American Birth Control League (which later became the Planned Parenthood Federation of America), Margaret Sanger, held similar eugenic views.  On average, nearly 3000 babies are murdered in abortion each day and in some cases for the cause of “fetal abnormalities.”   In the decades since Roe v. Wade, babies have been euthanized in America in numbers that far exceed those that occurred under the Nazi regime (~55 million babies have been killed in the “American holocaust”).  Horrifically, a recent undercover investigation unveiled evidence that Planned Parenthood has even been engaged in the practice of harvesting and selling body parts from aborted babies. 

It proved to be impossible to keep the Aktion T4 program secret from the German public.  Thousands of doctors, nurses, and administrators were involved.  Most of the children who were killed had families who were concerned about them.  In some cases, families could discern that the causes of death in certificates were false.  They sought out the truth.  Eventually, some of the staff at the killing centers started talking.  In the towns where the centers were located, people saw the smoke from the crematoria chimneys.  In a town called Hadamar, ashes containing human hair rained down on the town. 

Lothar Kreyssig was the one Judge in all of Germany who spoke out.  Lothar was born in Saxony, the son of a businessman.  After serving in WWI, he gained his law degree and eventually a judgeship in Chemnitz, Germany.  Though pressured to join the Nazi party, he refused, citing the need to maintain his judicial independence.  In 1934, he joined the Confessing Church, the church to which Dietrich Bonhoeffer also belonged. 

Before we can proceed with the rest of Lothar’s story, we need to explain how the Confessing Church came into existence.  More than anything else, it was borne out of protest to what was called “the Aryan Paragraph.”  The paragraph first appeared in the Third Reich in 1933 in a law which stipulated that only those of Aryan descent could be employed in civil service (thus excluding all Jews).  It was later broadened to exclude those married to a “non-Aryan.”  The Nazi party pressured other organizations to adopt the paragraph.  And most did.  Jews were thus barred from the public health system, lost their public offices, were driven from editorial offices and theaters, and were excluded from agriculture.  They would eventually face more horrific things.

In the beginning, the objections of the Confessing Church to the Nazi regime were not motivated by moral outrage over antisemitism.  What they didn’t like was the regime’s interference in their affairs.  The controversy was ultimately over the autonomy of the church.  In May 1934, the members of the Confessing Church met in a synod in Barmen.  The pastors denounced the leadership of the government sponsored church and declared that they and their congregations constituted the true Evangelical Church of Germany.  The Barmen Declaration re-affirmed that the German Church was not an "organ of the State" and that the concept of State control over the Church was doctrinally false.  The Declaration stipulated, at its core, that any State—even the totalitarian one— necessarily encountered a limit when confronted with God's commandments.  After the Barmen Declaration, there were in effect two Protestant churches in Germany: the officially sanctioned Church and the Confessing Church.  The Confessing Church did not offer resistance, in the political sense, with the intent of bringing down the Nazi regime.  It fought instead to keep its own autonomy and to preserve the independence of church doctrine.  Over time, they found themselves—in standing for truth--increasingly in a state of principled opposition to both the state and other German Christians.    

Back to Lothar’s story.  He was transferred to a lower district court in 1937.  His involvement in the Confessing Church resulted in an investigation.  Kreyssig’s superiors considered him to be a good judge–until he began a series of minor insubordinations such as slipping out of a ceremony in his court when a bust of Hitler was unveiled and publicly protesting the suspension of three judges who failed to follow the interpretation of “Aryan laws” favored by Nazi authorities.  Though the regime took no specific actions against him at that time, they undoubtedly henceforth kept him under close scrutiny.  One could imagine him to be tempted to lay low to avoid drawing attention to himself, but that’s not what he did.  His work as a mental health court guardianship judge made him responsible for several hundred mentally retarded children and adults.  After he observed that the number of death certificates for his wards was increasing, he began to suspect the deaths to be connected to the “mercy killings” that had begun.  He reported his suspicions in a letter to Minister of Justice Franz Gurtner, writing, “What is right is what benefits the people.  In the name of this frightful doctrine — as yet, uncontradicted by any guardian of rights in Germany — entire sectors of communal living are excluded from having rights, for example, all the concentration camps, and now, all hospitals and sanatoriums.”  He filed an injunction against the institutions, prohibiting them from transferring wards without his consent.

Four months later, Lothar was summoned by Gurtner, who laid before him Hitler’s personal letter that started the euthanasia program and which constituted the sole legal basis for it.  Kreyssig replied, "The Führer's word does not create a right," clearly signifying that he did not recognize this as a legal right.  Gurtner then told Kreyssig, "If you cannot recognize the will of the Führer as a source of law, then you cannot remain a judge.” In December 1940, Kreyssig was suspended.  Efforts by the Gestapo to send him to a concentration camp failed.  Two years later, in March 1942, Hitler forced Kreyssig to retire.

Public awareness and opposition to the T4 program grew and on 24 August 1941, Hitler ordered its cancellation.  Unfortunately, the winding-up of the T4 program did not actually put an end to the killing of people with disabilities.  Many more died after the program was officially terminated.

In his book, “Hitler’s Justice: The Courts of the Third Reich”, Ingo Muller writes of the courageous judge: “No matter how hard one searches for stout-hearted men among the judges of the Third Reich, for judges who refused to serve the regime from the bench, there remains a grand total of one: Dr. Lothar Kreyssig.” 

Lothar Kreyssig was the only German judge who attempted to stop the Aktion T4 euthanasia program.  Not only did he defy the Reich, he outlived it by forty one years.  Twenty years after his death, Germany held a memorial service honoring his bravery and compassion.  There are now four cities in Germany that have streets named after him.  In another city, there is a senior care center that bears his name.  The Lothar Kreyssig Peace Prize has been awarded every two years since 1999 by the Lothar Kreyssig Foundation in Magdeburg.

Thankfully, defending the sanctity of life and overreach of the government doesn’t now require anything of us like Kreyssig’s courage, but the time may come when it will.  There are things that we can now do in confronting evil.  We can pray, as one of our elders did in a recent prayer meeting.  With tears in his eyes, he prayed for the mothers contemplating an abortion—that their hearts might be turned so that they might value and preserve the life of their unborn child.  We can vote, for those who stand on the side of truth and value the lives of the most innocent and vulnerable amongst us.  We can lend our support to the ministries of pro-life groups and the pregnancy resource centers who work to assist and inform mothers who are wondering about what to do regarding their pregnancies.  We can wholeheartedly enjoin ourselves, in fellowship and service, to those churches who stand for truth and speak the truth in love.  We can speak to others of the innocent One whose own life was terminated, in bearing our sins, so that we might be forgiven and find eternal life in Him.  As has been said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Despite the threat to his livelihood and life, Lothar chose to do something.  And others were bettered for it.  Amongst all of the judges in Germany, it was his one contrary voice that worked to help “overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).