Friday, September 26, 2008

Sunday, September 21, 2008

A surprise worth mentioning...

It has been great being back home for a number of reasons. When you are away, you know that you will miss out events both big and small and that is just part of the sacrifice. But, when events happen (like a baby, for example) and you are home, it is fun to be a part of the fun moments that you would have missed out on, like today, for example.

Sam Mullen is a young man who I had gotten to know through the college ministry during my first year in Bellingham. Though he was going to W.S.U., we often met together during his trips home and enjoyed a great friendship despite the distance. So, you can imagine that I was pumped when Sam, now a college grad, knowing I was coming home, asked me to do the premarital counseling with his fiance, Amy. During the counseling, as we were talking about wedding details and what they were looking to do, the idea of a wedding in the midst of their crazy schedules was overwhelming. In passing we talked about doing a surprise wedding, but I didn't really think it was something that they were going to do.. Well, he called me a month ago and said, "We want to do a surprise wedding!" He only told myself so I could help organize the script of the wedding for his dad who was going to officiate the wedding and his brother who lived in Houston. The rest of the people knew that their was going to be a surprise birthday party for Amy. It was brilliant. Sam could talk to all his friends and family about the surprise, he could talk to his wife about the surprise, and everyone, but Amy, was going to be surprised! Sam organized a casual football throwing, outdoor beach BBQ, where everyone else brought the food and BBQ and chairs (and God provided the sun).

After everyone arrived, Sam sent the father in law to get Amy at the Ferry Terminal, where on the walk back, she broke the news to her dad that he was going to walk her down the makeshift aisle in about 15 minutes. And then Sam and I told Marc, his dad he was going to officiate the wedding in about 15 minutes as well. I gave him the service outline with the vows that Sam and Amy wanted and said, "Here ya go!" Then Sam told the mothers... "Surprise! I am getting married:)"

He gathered the 70 or so family and friends together and then shared the "surprise" and the reason why he chose to do this. He shared some personal things about family and then he said this:

"We love our familes and friends, and we have you all here with us today. We love summer, and despite the weather this is the last day of summer. We love fun, and barbeques are fun. And we love surprises, and I think this is a surprise to all but 3 of you. But mostly, and this is the big one, we love each other. We love each other and we don't want to wait until the stars perfectly align to get married. We've planned this out for about 2 months now, Amy and I together, and it has been a lot of fun. We want you to know that nothing is wrong, if we had to have waited until January we would've been just fine, we just didn't want to. This is our elopement, and we're happy to be able to share it will all of you.

On that note there has been talk of a December/January wedding. That is going to happen. This is our wedding, and that will be our reception. Unlike most receptions it will feel an awful lot like a wedding. We have a beautiful location picked out that Amy's mom found, and it will let us do all of the things we want. There will be a marriage sermon from my dad who will have much more time to prepare, a renewal of vows and a rededication of us in front of all of our friends and families, cake, dancing, karaoke, and car decorating. We will leave on our honeymoon from there, and it will be similar to a normal wedding, but without all of the stress. We will send out formal save the date cards and invites. For all practical purposes we are the luckiest people in the world, we get the two weddings we've always wanted."

The wedding was sweet, emotional and intimate. Other than my grammatical error from my outline in which Marc asked Sam to take Kari (his sister-in-law, which I had copied from Marc's previous officiated wedding) instead of Amy, it was perfect. Marc did an amazing job officiating the wedding considering the surprise... Overall, it was a great day and probably the only surprise wedding that I will ever go to in my life. What a joy to be back for occasions such as these...

Friday, September 19, 2008

More (or less) sports...

Back in the day when Seattle was good at sports (there was a day, wasn't there) when the Mariners tied the record for most wins and Sonics were playing the Bulls for the championship and the Huskies were top 10 in the nation and the Seahawks were in the Super Bowl, there was a skip in this rain soaked state. But things have been gloomy as of late, and a friend made a comment today that this past year has been the worst sports year for our (any?) state ever... The Mariners officially are the worst team in baseball, the Huskies and the Cougars are battling it out for the basement in their division, the Sonics are now the Thunder and the Seahawks are 0-2 (I am still hoping for the best despite 6 receivers out with injury). I am not sure what did it, but I am thinking this article by Rick Reilly might have jinxed us (though I don't really believe in jinxing). I am just glad that life is more than sports and I feel bad for the sport worshippers out there (i.e. Big Lo). If you need a chuckle during this dark time in Seattle sports, read this article and laugh... And thank the Lord their is more to life than sports!

By Rick Reilly

Okay, Seattle, grab a grande, skinny, no-foam, half-caf Espresso Macchiato and let me explain why the Pittsburgh Steelers are going to grind you up like a Sumatra blend in Super Bowl XL.

You suck at sports.

You always have. You make nice motherboards, but you're dweebier than Frasier Crane's wine club. You've had the big three pro sports for 30 years now -- almost 40 for the NBA -- and you have one lousy championship to show for it. Uno. The 1978 Seattle SuperSonics. My goodness, you people have fewer parades than Venice.

What's amazing is, you do college sports even worse. In the 70 years that a mythical national championship has been awarded in college football, the University of Washington has one half of one title: in 1991 (with Miami). Zippo in basketball, baseball, track or field. O.K., the Huskies are good at crew (three women's titles, one men's). Wonderful. Somewhere, three salmon cheer.

Your most famous athlete is a horse, Seattle Slew. Your most famous athletic moment was Bo Jackson's turning the Boz's chest into a welcome mat on Monday Night Football. Your greatest contribution to sports was the Wave, the fan-participation stunt that screams to the world, "We have no idea what the score is!"

And do you know why you stink, Seattle? Because ...

1. You're too nice.

Look at your Seahawks. Your MVP halfback, Shaun Alexander, teaches kids chess. Your scariest player is named Pork Chop. My goodness, last week, you offered valet parking service to reporters at Seahawks headquarters. (Seattle fans: If you see valet parking at Detroit's Ford Field this week, they're trying to steal your car.)

Nearly every five-dollar-steak-tough athlete who comes to Seattle leaves -- Gary Payton and Randy Johnson for instance. Consider Seattle's two favorite athletes -- Steve Largent and Fred Couples. Those guys wouldn't complain if somebody extinguished a Cohiba in their ears. Your sportswriters are more forgiving than Hillary Clinton. If they covered Jeffrey Dahmer, they'd refer to him as "a people person."

You Seattle fans don't just accept mediocrity. You crave it. You support your boys come hell or low water. You show up at the rate of three million a year for the Mariners, who never fail to let you down. Even the stadium sounds cuddly: Safeco Field. You pack the house for the underachieving SuperSonics, led by the NBA's nicest loser, Ray Allen. Your Seahawks went 21 years without a playoff win, and the fans didn't so much as clear their throats. Everybody just goes, "Well, that was fun. Let's kayak!" Hey, you can't spell Seattle without settle.

The whole town is 100% June Cleaver. I once walked into Nordstrom, the Seattle-based department store, and sheepishly asked if I could bring back a shirt I'd bought a month before in another town. The clerk said, "Sir, this is Nordstrom. You could wear it for 10 years, throw up on it and roll down a mountain in it and we'd take it back." Ask that at Neiman Marcus and they call security.

It ain't happening. Walruses don't do triple Salchows, and Seattle teams don't win titles.

2. You're too geeky.

Your owner, Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen, looks like the kid in high school who always got taped to the goalposts. If Allen wins, will he call all his friends from band camp? Throw his slide rule into the air? Plot his joy on a scatter chart?

Look, your average Seahawks fan drives a Prius. Your average Steelers fan drives a Ford Excursion, which has Priuses in its tire treads. Seahawks fans own poodles. Steelers fans eat them.

3. You're too wet.

Seattle is a great place if you happen to be mold. It just rained 27 straight days and it wasn't even a record. Seattle is basically a lot of guys waiting for a bus with rain starting to seep into their socks. Most kids are seven years old before they realize the umbrella is not an extension of the right arm. No wonder most great athletes leave. Ken Griffey Jr. left, basically saying, "I want my kid to be able to play outside once in a while."

In short, you people are too peaceful and happy in your Emerald City. You ever know anybody from Pittsburgh? You want this Super Bowl. Pittsburgh needs it. You're going to get smoked like a platter of smelt.

(But do you mind if we come live there?)

James 1.27 lived out and made practical...

This is an amazing story of a family that you may remember that we blogged about... Rob and Christa Murphy spent lots of time with us when they were in Zambia adopting their little boy, Isaiah (you can see him in the carrier behind Rob). They stayed at our house, and our girls played together. We were there when they got the call that the visa had come in and we drove them to the airport... Anyway, check out the article below in their paper...

ZEELAND -- A few years ago, Zeeland doctor Christa Murphy watched a Zambian mother and her young son waste away and die of AIDS.

Not long before the boy died, Murphy looked into the child's eyes.

"He just stared past me with hollow eyes. My heart was really broken," Murphy said.

Not long after, Christa, 33, and her husband, Rob, 38, decided at least one HIV-positive Zambian child would not suffer the same fate.

Today, they are the proud parents of Isaiah Murphy, 2, a Zambian orphan they adopted in December.

A boy once likely to die by age 3 is now healthy, smiling, and with no sign of the virus.

"There is just a lot of hope when you see him," Christa Murphy said.

The Murphys are to be honored for their commitment today at the White House lawn, part of the annual Angels in Adoption ceremony. Nominated by members of Congress, recipients from all 50 states are recognized for giving permanent homes to children in need.

"When you have a family like this who makes a decision to adopt a child, it just sends out such a positive message," said U.S. Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Holland. Hoekstra nominated the Murphys for the honor.

"People in these other countries, they notice that Americans are not going over and taking the healthy kids."

For the Murphys, their journey toward Isaiah began with a trip to Zambia in 1996. We decided we would like to spend a year somewhere serving in another culture. We ended up in Zambia and just falling in love with the Zambian people."

Nine years later, they were back on another mission trip, this time with two daughters of their own. The Murphy family today includes three biological daughters, Acacia, 8; Christianna, 5; and Katriya, 2.

Christa Murphy, a family practice physician, encountered a woman at a hospital in northwestern Zambia in the late stages of AIDS. The Murphys were there as part of World Medical Missions, the medical arm of the international relief organization, Samaritan's Purse.

"She was lying on her back. She didn't have the strength to sit up," she recalled.

About a month later, the woman's 5-year-old son was admitted with severe malnutrition. He was emaciated, his eyes sunken, his body defenseless against infection.

"It was really too late for him," she said.

In September 2007, Rob Murphy returned to Zambia with a team from Grand Rapids-based Bethany Christian Services.

"I got a call from the orphanage that said they have a little boy. They asked if we wanted to adopt him."

He was able to spend a few hours with him before returning home. Murphy learned his background: Born in June 2006, he contracted the virus at birth. His mother died of AIDS. His father was reported to be unable to care for him.

Left to the Zambian medical system, he would have been lucky to survive past age 3.

But as their adoption date approached, the Zambian government sent out mixed signals about whether it would continue to allow international adoptions.

The Murphys boarded a plane in December with no certainty the adoption would happen.

"He was actually the last child adopted out of Zambia internationally at the time," Rob Murphy said.

When they brought him home, Isaiah had 475,000 copies of HIV per milliliter of blood. Thanks to a cocktail of antiretroviral drugs not generally available in countries such as Zambia, the virus today is undetectable.

The Murphys expect a long and productive life for their son.

"His prognosis is very, very beautiful. The data says there is no reason he can't grow up and have a family and not pass HIV on," Rob Murphy said.

The Murphys hope others see the same need they witnessed in the eyes of a child.

"These kids are dying, five a minute every day. We really have to do something," Rob Murphy said.

Friday, September 12, 2008

One step at a time

Some good friends of ours loaned us a standing keyboard while we are in Bellingham. It has been awhile since our girls had played the piano, so they were playing on it all afternoon. Their favorite part of the keyboard is the demo key, where with just one push of a button, an assortment of beautiful songs are played. They have listened to the songs enough to know how can move their hands around the keyboard as if it is them playing. My niece was over this weekend and the girls were "playing" the piano. Her eyes were wide in disbelief that my girls could play the piano this good. It was pretty funny. This afternoon while I was watching Kamryn DEMOnstrate her abilities, I thought to myself, "It will take a long time for you to be able to play that for real." And truth is, she could someday play that good, but she will need to discipline herself greatly to get there.

I was reflecting on that thought later this evening and life really is about small steps in the same direction. We all see the Michael Phelps and the Lebron James and the Tiger Woods, but we don't know the daily discipline that goes on behind the scenes for them to be able to perform at the level that they do. Tonight I was reading an article about a man who went from jail to Yale Law School. The author of the article wrote, "It has been anything but easy. Idarraga will always have to fight his past, to convince those who have not walked in his shoes that they should take a chance on him. He tells kids that the way to keep moving ahead is by having goals and a plan to reach them.“We can learn to define our own goals!” he exclaims. “How do we get there? It begins by taking small, purposeful, consistent, disciplined steps … if you do not learn to define your own future, you already know that it will be defined for you.” He shared in this article that he would study 15 hours a day in the prison library... In Africa, there is a saying that we achieve things in life, bit by bit. I have learned personally that every marathon begins with the first mile. It is the discipline and the small steps and time that allows a person to be able to do something tomorrow that he couldn't have done today.

I fear that we have forgotten this in our spiritual lives. We are either discouraged because we are not what should be or want to be and/or we have forgotten that our spiritual lives are full of daily decisions to choose God's will and not our own. It really is about forgetting what is behind and pressing on towards what is ahead and daily moving forward in light of the great goal of Heaven. It is the discipline of being satisfied in Jesus and serving when no one is watching and recognizing that Heaven is the ultimate goal that changes how we live here. As great as it is to be an excellent piano player or basketball player or whatever else, nothing compares to the rewards that will last forever in heaven. Mayb it is memorizing a book of the Bible one verse a week. Maybe it is serving the poor once a month. Maybe it is starting to sponsor a child. So much can be accomplished for Jesus if we just do it, one day at a time. So, start today, forget what is behind and press on toward what is ahead. Contemplate the greatness of the goal that lies ahead of you. Reignite the fire that God wants to use you to make a difference in this world and that you are part of the big picture. Whatever you do, do it one step at at time, walking in the fullness of His Spirit for the glory of God.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Pastor Leadership Development

I thought this was a cool post by my teammate, Tracy Singleton... I worked directly with a bunch of these pastors and it is really encouraging to see them moving ahead with this class. Enjoy!

This past Monday marked the commencement of the Veritas Bible class. Comprised of fifteen students~ thirteen pastors and two seminarians~the class is held Monday, Wednesday, Friday, for two hours each day. On the first row, second from the right, is Glenn Ripley, the founder of Action Zambia. Since he and his family are returning to the states, this picture is significant~a "passing of the baton" picture, if you will. This class marks the beginning of one part of the vision for pastoral training that Glenn has nurtured for several years. In the second row, third from the right, is Alfred Mulenga, Tracy's language helper.

With almost a whole week of teaching under his belt, Tracy has found the students willing and eager to learn, enthusiastically participating in discussion. These students tend to be an older, more spiritually mature group. Most of them are preaching weekly and all of them are actively involved in ministry.

This week Tracy laid a foundation of the inspiration of Scripture, a brief overview of the Bible, and expectations for the class. Tracy strongly feels the privilege as well as the responsibility of teaching these men. We look forward to how these men will benefit from as well as use their knowledge to bless their congregations. To God be the glory!

Sunday, September 07, 2008

How exactly to celebrate...

It is pretty obvious that I love sports and really wish they were eternal. I guess what I mean is that in the long run, it really doesn't matter who who won and who lost and what player got this hit or scored that touchdown. But, there are lessons you can learn and insights you can gain and analogies you can draw. So as to justify or satisfy my love for sports and love for eternity and my desire to see them unified as much as possible, I hereby give you another lesson...

I remember when I was playing for the Huskies (yep, I was walk-on player a long, long time ago, back when were good, with the likes of Mark Brunell and Napoloen Kaufman) and the new rule was brought to our league about how celebrating after a touchdown would be penalized. I still remember how the coach described how you had to celebrate with your teammates (it didn't really affect me... I wasn't going to get in, let alone worry about celebrating) and not showboat it by yourself (think soccer). So, team celebrating was not only encouraged but mandated. It was a good rule that served the game, keeping gloating showboaters celebrating with the other players that blocked and passed and helped to make the touchdown happen.

Now, fast forward many years and though my playing days are over, this rule is still in place. Like I said, it is a good rule that serves the game well. But, rules, all rules should exist to serve the game, and not vice versa. Someone doesn't make a bunch of rules and then try to fit a game into it. You make the game and then create rules so that their are boundaries and fairness and right and wrong so that players are able to play the game freely and fully. Last week, when Jake Locker was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct for throwing the ball over his shoulder and then celebrating with the team was an example of putting rules above the game. Jake Locker was quoted after hearing there was a flag on the field, "That was stupid. Who got the penalty?" He didn't even know he did it. I doubt any player, fan of either team or coach of either team even noticed it. The rule was put in place to keep the spirit of showboating to a limit, not just so they could add another rule to the game. As Ty Willingham, the coach of the Huskies said, "There are rules written for them to use discretion, and in this case they didn't do that. Proper judgment was not used. That was not an act of a young man taunting, not an unsportsmanlike act at all, and therefore it should have been viewed in its totality and not just isolated as to the letter of the law."

So, the Huskies lost a heartbreaker when the a short kick was moved back and it was eventually blocked. And like I said, when I get to Heaven, I won't really care who won or how it happend... But to make it eternal, it reminded me of an interaction Jesus had with the Pharisees. The Pharisees loved talking about the rules and making more rules to keep rules. They were all about rules and laws (just not obeying them). For example, the Sabbath. This was a rule God made for man to help them rest and to set aside time to worship God. It was a rule made for man by God to help man. But the Pharisees started adding more rules to the Sabbath about how far you could walk and not walk and what you could do and couldn't do. They got really mad at Jesus a bunch of times because he would heal people and eat food on the Sabbath. They said he was breaking the laws of Sabbath. But, Jesus understood the difference between the Spirit of the law and the letter of the law. He understand that man weren't made for rules but that the rules were put in place to help man. Jesus said in Mark 2:27 - "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." It is easy as Christians to get so focused on the rules and the doing of this or that that we forget about the point of the rules is to help Christians love God and love people with all our heart, soul and mind and strength.

So, my plea to the referees who watch these kids play their hearts out, don't forget that the rules still serve the game and do not let the the letter of the law determine the outcome of the game. A hold is still a hold, a pass interference is still a pass interference; that is a different thing all together. What we are talking about is why this rule was put in place just 15 little years ago to keep glory hounds giving glory to the team that helped get him there. And may we realize why the law was given, to show us that we are sinful and to give us boundaries, not so that we can create more and more rules, and not because the rules makes us religious. We must see the rules in the spirit that it was given so that we could have opportunities to and the way how to love God and other people.

So, there you have it... Any thoughts?

Saturday, September 06, 2008

ACTION Zambia continues...

Here is a good post from my buddy Brent over in Zambia... It gives you the complexity of what we are dealing with in Zambia...

Pastors Discipleship

On Thursday, Graham and I, along with 10 Zambian church leaders (mostly compound pastors) started a new discipleship program.  Over the next year, Graham and I will be leading this group through some material focused on Deepening Our Intimacy With God.

The first meeting went really well.  We did the normal introductions, introduced the material and then tried to memorize a verse from scripture.  Everyone seemed to be really excited about what God is going to teach us as a group.  Our desire is that the pastors attending this discipleship program will take what they learn and start similar discipleship programs in their own churches.

One of the biggest needs in the church here is discipleship.  In most compound churches, the pastors have no more than the equivalent of a 7th grade education, coupled with little to no theological training, which is the case of most of the pastors in our discipleship program.  Imagine having only a 7th grade education, no theological training, struggling to read English (in some cases) and overseeing congregations where 70-80% of the members cannot read and therefore are unable to learn from God's word unless taught by someone else.  Now, you can somewhat understand what these men are up against.

Please pray for this group.  Pray that God would use this program for His glory and for the benefit of these men and their churches.  Pray for the daily physical provisions of these pastors.  Many of these men struggle to provide for their own families, much less their churches physical needs.  Pray for Graham and I.  Pray that we would be sensitive to culture, and would lead in a way that equips these men for effective ministry.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Amazing what a year will bring...

This day last year, September 4, 2008,  we were leaving America behind for a new adventure in Africa.  Who would have thought that we would be writing this blog from American soil with girl #4 living in our house?  We are learning to live day by day, trusting the Lord, and living in His will. Thanks for all your support and prayers for us.

James 4:13-15 (NIV)  
    Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." [14] Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. [15] Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that."