Saturday, January 31, 2009

Book Review: The Prodigal God

I have a goal for the upcoming year, 2009, to read and review a book a month. It is a bit for accountability and a book to share some reviews of books that I believe are worth reading.

And, I imagine that I the rest of the year will be a bit anti-climatic after reading The Prodigal God. It is a short book, 133 pages, and a really easy read. It is a story about a story that you have no doubt read a lot of times, The Prodigal Son. It would be easy to dismiss it, I know, because I almost did. But, I am so glad I didn't. Two good friends whom I greatly respect both raved about this book, so I picked it up, started it on the plane to Zambia and finished it a week ago. The title is The Prodigal God by Tim Keller who is the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. I love this book because he dives headlong into the story of the Prodigal Son and opens the story like no one I ever have seen. But in opening the story, he reveals that the story of the Prodigal Son is more about the prideful, selfish, unconcerned older brother in whom his story never resolves. The prodigal son comes home but the older brother doesn't have an ending. It was on purpose, a story meant for the Pharisees, and an invitation to also come home.

I don't even know where to start in explaining how revolutionary this book was to me. I have been thinking about this books weeks after reading it and I am still amazed at how he has unveiled my own sin, my own older brother realities and I guess I just have to say, you must read this book for yourself. I know that is a lame out. But, it is that revolutionary and I don't want to ruin it for you.

Next up: How people Change, by Timothy S. Lane and Paul David Tripp

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Being built up...

It is hard to describe the joy and terror I feel as I stand before the fifteen pastors at our Action Bible Institute. The joy is obvious. Here are 15 pastors who minister in one of the most difficult places in all the earth in some of the difficult and painful situations in all the earth. What a privilege to walk alongside these men in their passion and commitment to know the word of God and use this knowledge to lead their churches. The terror is probably even more obvious because you are supposed to have something to say to them. These pastors are on the cutting edge, pastoring, loving people, planting churches, working side jobs to support their families and living by faith, every day. They should be teaching me. I feel a pressure, a good, healthy pressure (and a not so healthy pressure, at times) which forces me to continue to evaluate and re-evaluate what I am doing and how I can best serve these pastors. I am teaching through the book of Ephesians now, and we are making some progress.

My goal is to not only teach them how to study inductively the passage that we are studying, which is our first step. And it is not only to explain and work through theologically what the passage means (and doesn't mean). But the true test of success is that I would be able to help them to translate this message of the Bible to their culture so that they can effectively preach and teach this to their own church. And I supposed to do all this, all in an hour and a half, three days a week.

After the last class, I left a bit discouraged, wondering if I could really do it. But, Mr. Mwenya, a student in the class, came up to me after class and said, "Thank you for your teaching. You are really building me up. I love your teaching and it helps me and my church very much." Well, the Lord must have known that I needed that, as it not only encouraged me, but motivated me onward, that God's sufficent grace will do in me and through what He has called me here to do.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Fresh Wonder...

Tonight the sunset was absolutely incredible. Orange and red, intermixed and zig-zagged across the sky, I literally gasped and then just shook my head in amazement. The last several days I have been struck with just this fresh amazement that I am in Africa. It doesn't really ever get old that I am living in AFRICA! Amazing.

I mean who would have thought, even five years ago, that I would be living in Zambia. I don't think I ever even thought of Zambia or knew where it was before 2006. It was less than three years ago while leading a short term mission trip for about 20 high school students in Mexico, my wife and I heard a call for the need for missionaries and said, "We'll go!" And from that point forward, through lots of trials and doubts and fears and exhausting days we raised support, went through training, talked with churches, went to Zambia, came back and now here we are, again.

People sometimes ask, "How did you end up in Zambia?" The short answer is God. The long answer is once we said we'll go, it was like, "O.K., where?" Through prayer, thinking through my skill set, food allergies and hearing impairment, plus deciphering what gifts God had given us and where our heart were tugging us, we eliminated a lot of places and then quickly narrowed the list down to Africa. From there, we contacted agencies in Africa and we looked at maybe running an orphange in Kenya. When we talked with someone from Action Zambia about helping us in Kenya with an orphanage, he gave us their philosophy on building up the local church and training pastors and it was like, "That's it! That is exactly what we should do." The process for us was really quick but it is not like that for all people.

Overally, it has been a really hard three years. The spiritual battle is intense, the sacrifices have been high (not just for us, but also for our parents and family) and the struggle is constant. You feel like an outsider, you continually wear a burden of poverty and disease on your back and chaos just becomes normal. I won't lie. Every day is a challenge. But, when I see the growth of our family, when I connect with a Zambian, when I hear my girls pray and see ministry first hand, when I can tell a pastor gets it by the gleam in his eye, I can say without a doubt, it is worth it. I am confident that we are supposed to be here and that makes all the difference.

What about you? What's your story? Have you ever told God that you will go wherever he leads? Would you leave everything and go to Asia or Mexico or the inner city or even to your neighbors next door? For others, you may want to go and maybe God is saying, "Be faithful where you are..." May we all listen to the voice of God as he leads and directs us, as we live for His will and His purposes and His pleasure. May we live for those simple, sweet word, "Well done, my good and faithful servant." May we live with courage and risk and fearlessness and with an unwavering commitment to not waste the opportunities that we have to follow God wholeheartedly where ever you may be...

Monday, January 26, 2009

I wouldn't be surprised...

I wouldn't be surprised if one of my daughter's become an insectologist. We have a natural habitat here in our house to study all the different kinds of insects. For example, termites. We have this wonderful little stool which has provided ample opportunity to watch how termites like to eat the wood stool and leave little dust particles just to let you know that they are there.

And the mosquitos... Wow. I just don't think they can ask for a better location to study how they fly around and buzz around your face and create a haven in your car if you leave the windows open and get inside your mosquito net so you (or they) can hear them buzzing around.

And, what we really enjoy is how amazing the little kitchen ants are. Well, kitchen ants are a bit of an underexageration. Oh, they are in the kitchen and just about everywhere else. For example, we make dinner, we go eat dinner and we come back to a bazillion ants eating dinner on our dishes that made the dinner. A crumb hits the ground and literally in minutes, maybe 10, the crumb is covered with ants. So, Kamryn decides to experiment, and the video below is an ant pulling this huge cornflake, probably 8 minutes after she put it on the desk to see how long it would take the ant to get it...(The video is a bit blurry but you will get the idea:) There are so many ants, and they are so strong and they work together and you wonder what would happen if you pulled apart the siding, because this queen is one busy mama. The ants don't just get food. I came out one morning to find a (Warning: Rated G for gross) a cockroach, upside down and dead with a bunch of ants eating it:( And then, a big moth became a feeding ground for these ants. I guess the bright side is they are mostly rainy season crazy and they don't bite... So, there you have it... A little look inside the life of missionaries:) We love our house and we have it easy compared ot the other missionaries in the villages that have scorpions and big hairy spiders and other stuff... Just a reminder to hug that fly or cranefly every once in a while and appreciate what you have (and don't have:)

Just as an example of how the ants have become a part of our family. This morning I was upset with Julia because I figured that she and Bradyn had been chipping off paint on the side of the house and the patio was full of dirt and debris. She said that she didn't do it and that it was probably the ants:)

Tonight Stephanie asked the question of our family during dinner, "How many ants do you think we have eaten since we have been here?"

Friday, January 23, 2009

A couple of words that burn like fire

Living in Zambia makes you think different. (That is my warning if you continue to read.) Well, maybe I should explain. In America, at least where I come from, living isn't so much about surviving. It becomes cultural and normal to live the way I live, to think and plan life around kitchen remodels and family vacations, not surviving floods that come through your leaky roofs and malaria that makes your kid sick and finding/keeping a job that puts some food on the table. I was just struck the other day as I was driving through my neighborhood that these friends and strangers struggle so much daily to just to live, to get a house and keep a house and survive.

So, I was driving and everything just came at me really fast, images and moving pictures of life here and I got this strong sense of emotion and feeling. I just felt this urge at the moment to say something that made such sense at the moment, more than ever before, words that I need to continually hear, but also felt compelled to share to my friends and family in America who don't witness every day what I witness... These words that I thought and felt from the bottom of my heart and soul at that moment weren't planned or contrived or put there or thought up or organized. I haven't felt anything like that before or after. This isn't me trying to be convicting or challenging. And they can't be contained or diluted or softened. It was like a fire, burning, compelling me to stop right there and plead with you to hear.

So, for better or for worse, these words that just jumped into my thoughts like a flash of lightening accompanied by a roar of thunder... The two words that brought clarity and sense and peace was my heart's cry to you now: Be content!

Be content with your house, even if it isn't how you want it. Be content with your car, and your yard and your furniture. Be content if things don't match or they are a little outdated. Be content with your situation. Be content with simple food and living simply. Be content with little and don't think you need more. Be content with bad teachers, difficult bosses or discouraging news. More than just content, be thankful and joy-filled and gracious. Be content to be content. Be content so that you don't need anything to be content so that you can be content. Be content with things are hard. Be content with things are good. Be content to live in whatever circumstances you find yourself. Be content so you don't need anything more to be content. Being content is not an excuse for laziness or procrastination, but not being content is not justification for greed, self-indulgence, ignorance and just living the American dream.

Please, for your sake, be content. That is my hope and my pleading from the bottom of my heart for you that you will be content. Enjoy the blessings that God gives, but in them, be content.

Philip. 4:11
I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Does anyone want to come with us?

We are embarking on a journey this year as a family to study and memorize the sermon on the mount, Matthew 5-7 in the New Testament. We have done in previous years, Philipines and last year we worked on James. This year we want to study the words of Jesus and his most famous sermon. There are only 110 verses, so if you did one verse a day, like we tend to do, and talk about it and work through it, you would have over 200 days to review and work on it. We try to get together every morning as a family but life happens and we don't always make it, so having some extra wiggle room helps a lot. It would be fun to journey together as families or individuals through this book this year if you are up for it. Please let us know. We started a bit late, so we are only on Matthew 5:6: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

And if you have never thought about having family devotions, and want to start with something a little different, here are a couple of resources: The Jesus Storybook is a great book. It goes through the whole Bible and shows how it tells the story of Jesus. Also, I preached a sermon on the importance of family devotions and the parents being the pastors of the family. You can find it here! Just look down to December 7, "Blessed like Mary." If you have never done family devotions and you want to hear from someone, here is a good description of what John Piper does. A couple of books that inspired us and began to help us see the value of time together in the Word was Family Driven Faith by Voddie Baucham and Ten P's in a Pod by Arnold Pent. And here is a great blog about how to get going on family devotions...

Regardless of whether you join us, may we all be encouraged, no matter what age, to be in the Word as a family... Don't stress about being perfect and don't worry if you are not a pastor. Just be consistent, and the days will grow to years, and you will see a progress and joy

So, any takers out there...? We would love to journey with some families across the oceans!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Can you hear me thinking?

It has been so surreal being back. The rawness of Africa is so refreshing. The heartbreak is so humbling. I can't tell you what a different experience it is being back for a second time, knowing my way around, having friends that are both Zambians and Americans makes me feel like I am just returning home after being gone for a little while. It feels like home. I was driving some pastors home, and we were joking about how I needed to stay in Zambia long enough to marry off my daughters (in Africa the groom pays the bride's father a dowry in cows...) I told them I was going to bring that tradition to America... I can see it now, "Yes you can marry my daughter, but it is going to cost you. You see, they are Zambian and we must continue their cultural roots... How much do you love her?:)

I was at church the other day, and this youth choir sang this amazing Nyanga song. It was incredible. Beautiful.

I was driving the other day through the compound and their were huge puddles bordering the sides of the streets, chickens being sold on the in their little cages, charcoal on the other side and people walking everywhere. I just smiled and really felt the joy of being back.

But, that is only half of it. If you could only get inside my head for a moment, to listen in on the conversations going on, the processing, the battle and the thoughts, you might be a bit concerned:) It is crazy being back, because we feel like we never left. And, it was as if, stepping back into the country has given my mind permission to go in to overdrive. I remember last year, saying that I was going to blog every day for the first 30 days so as to have a place to process all that I was seeing and experiencing. And I have such a need for that again. See, it is like we never left and yet I have grown and experienced and processed a lot over the past year and a half, and so the things I am thinking about today are different than before, but no less convicting or uncomfortable or vexing.

I am thinking about this idea of love, where the Bible says that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. What does that mean but to care for others as I care for myself? Where before I just felt guilty, I now feel like I have a better grasp on what it means to love others, to bear burdens and care for others. So, when I buy preventive malaria medicine which we plan to do because we have money, what does that mean for others? It means that I should buy for them as well. I should care for us and I should care for them. But there are a lot of them, so should I buy just for those God has entrusted or given me relationship? How do I practically love my neighbor and when will I be satisfied that I have loved enough? Is there ever enough and is that really just me missing the point altogether?

I came home from my class yesterday to find Edmund, an orphan, waiting for me. I had helped him last year go to school in Kafue and he was back, knowing I was coming back in January. He didn't know when I would be home, but took a chance, going on mini bus, from Kafue, which is about 1 hour and 30 minutes away. He was a young man that was reached by one of our team members from years before. He needed more money to go to school. His parents have died and he lives with his grandparents and four siblings. She is old, sews for a living, and is in poor health. He needs 450,000 kwacha (under a hundred dollars) to go to school for a year, so he can finish his 11th grade. I struggle because I don't know this boy, yet, if his story is true, it is heartbreaking. What if that were my child. I could help him. I will help him. I want to help him. But, the need doesn't end. He came by today, and shared more of his story. I found myself tonight just thinking about him and reflecting on his plight, his desire to have a family, to support a family, and have a job and a life.

Today, a pastor friend stopped by to say hi at around 8:30am. In Zambia, stopping by is cultural and normal. So, whatever you might be doing becomes second and being hospitable becomes first. So, we had some water, we talked, and my daughter Kamryn invites him to stay for breakfast, french toast. We enjoyed a great breakfast with this man, who has thirteen children, 8 biological and 5 adopted, who lives in a very small house and lives, truly, by faith. He has a church that is too small for 100 people, and yet he has over 300 every Sunday. He has a plot of land next door, and a foundation that has begun. But they do not have the money to pay for it, and I could probably get enough people to help him pay for it, but if I do it, I jeopardize our relationship and the relationship with the countless other pastors I work with because money and relationships are tenous at best, but if I don't, some people will not be able to hear the gospel preached or be able to go to his church. I want to help. It would be so easy to help. But, it might not be best to help,

Kamryn went with a friend today to the hospital to visit Lydia Sitali, a daughter of a pastor and a teacher at a community school who had cerebral meningitis, who when a 32 cm of water fluid will kill you, she had over 70 cm of water in her brain. She was paralyzed since December 5, with no ability to get her to a hospital because of a lack of money, the pastor lost his cell phone so he had no way to call us, and we learned of it in December. We (Action Zambia) have since got her to a hospital, but she is blind, can barely process and is progressing slowly.

I saw a man, hobbling on a crutch today, a ways from my house. I saw him hours later, hardly a mile away, going in the same direction as before.

This is Africa. It is what it is. Life trying to survive this life. No pretending. No walls. No superficiality. It is good to be back.

I am thinking about a lot things now, and it is hard and good and real and raw. I teach pastors, but ministry and normal life and poverty and heartache and pain and joy and simplicity and opportunity interweave a whole consuming lot. I am doing well, so don't worry. I think this kind of processing is good for the soul. I have had the opinion all along that all of this is a process of me learning to live more and more for others, allowing my heart to be broken (and to stay broken) by the things that breaks God's heart and to be used in ways that are at best uncomfortable and at worst, maddening.

I hear the wind blowing and that usually means a storm is coming.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Action Bible Institute in video...

Just wanted to show you a short video of my first class that I taught on Friday. It was a milestone for me, and it felt great to be back before these men whom I am so thankful to have in my life.

As I have shared before, we have 15 pastors who have committed to a three year Bible school. Tracy Singleton and I will be team teaching two courses, three times a week. I am teaching Ephesians this quarter, where we will study through the whole book, in an inductive type method of studying, so as to give them weekly passages to study and discuss that we hope will eventually be preached in their churches.

The first class went really well, and I am just thrilled that I get the opportunity to study and teach at this level to these hungry, amazing pastors. So, there will definitely be more to come, but, here is a short, quick video to show our school in ACTION....

Friday, January 16, 2009

Sleepless in Zambia...

We made it to our second night, exhausted. We collapsed into bed after a day of unpacking and organizing our home. At around 11:oo pm, after a few hours of sleep, we awoke to thunder and lightning and what felt like the great flood coming down outside our bedroom. I have never seen lightning like this, every 2 to 3 seconds, almost like a flickering light bulb. The thunder when it would go off was like a cannon going off in your bed. And the rain just kept coming down, pounding the roof and the windows. The power went out and it was a bit eery. We went to get a few flashlights in the kitchen to find ourselves in a couple inches of water. The kitchen was flooding from the water coming under the door. We went to get some towels to find leaks coming from different parts of the house. So we got some buckets to catch the leaks. All in all, it was crazy evening. So, as to give you a glimpse of what we experienced, Kamryn drew a little picture. When we woke up in the morning, we found that our back outer wall had collapsed by the sheer weight and rush of the water. We had leaks in the living room and the homeschool room. The kitchen was flooded (but not quite as bad as the picture shows:) And there was a knee-deep river coming down our driveway, bending our gate, bringing with it trash from the street, and an inch of dirt all around the driveway. Thankfully all is good. The owner came by yesterday to survey the wall and it should be fixed soon. I mopped and cleaned and life went on as normal. But, what was humbling for us, and what led us to pray that morning was the poor are the ones who get hit the worse. Our workers houses got flooded big time, soaking mattresses and furniture. One gal had to mop all night so it didn't destroy her house. Walls and houses collapsed under the weight and force of the rain. It seems the ones who suffer the most seem to suffer even more during times like this.
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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Up and Running...

Stephanie and I were talking tonight about what a difference the transition has been this year as opposed to last year when we came. Having our house in order, knowing our way around and having established relationships with both our teammates and pastors has enabled us to be able to literally, get up and running. I teach my first class on Ephesians tomorrow to the pastors in the picture. We have started our Action Bible Institute which is a three year school which specializes on training pastors. Six of these pastors I worked with directly last year and the other 9 I have either known or am meeting for the first time.

I will be teaching Ephesians on Monday-Wednesday-Friday from 5-6:30pm for the winter term until April. From there I will be meeting bi-weekly with two different groups of three pastors each going through the book "Spiritual Leadership" as a means to talk about leading churches and pastoring with God's heart. And then monthly, I will be attending one of the churches of the pastors I am working with to listen and continue to support and encouraged these pastors. So, there is a really cool large to small to one-on-one strategy that has been implemented that will really allow time and relationship and theology to hit both the heart and the head.

The other missionary I am working with is Tracy Singleton who has been a pastor for 25 years in the states and he and his wife have left their church to come pastor the pastors here in Zambia. It is a really privilege to serve alongside and under this pastor.

For those of you who are facebook people, click the facebook link to join our "Pray for Zambian Pastors!" group... You will get updates regularly with pictures and all...

Thanks again for your prayers. More updates tomorrow on the daily life family stuff... Lots to tell, especially regarding water... lots of water, falling from the sky through our roof, knocking over walls, etc...

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

And the winner is...

Well, Kamryn wins. She managed to stay awake all day yesterday and went to bed at 7:00 pm and is still sleeping even now, at 6:45 am. The biggest loser? Well, it was a tie. I fell asleep at 8:00 with Stephanie to fall fast asleep, to be awoken by Bradyn at 9:59 pm. I had to go sleep with her. Went back with her to bed. She woke up again. Then Julia woke up. I slept with her. At 3:30am, Julia whispers four times to my hearing impaired hear, "When is it morning?" I heard other voices when I was trying to set up a movie for her. Bradyn was with mommy and Johanna. Johanna was up at 2:30 am. Ahhh, the joys of changing time zones...

Home, sweat, home...

So much for snow and cold weather... I am hot, sweaty and uh, hot. Yes, we have arrived "home" and it feels so good to be greeted by our friends and teammates. I am about to go and have some nshima, but just wanted to let you know we arrived safely albeit a bit tired, but super thankful for a great flight. Johanna is already getting to know Auntie Miriam. We want to THANK YOU for all your prayers... More to come, I am sure:)

Monday, January 12, 2009

Half way there...

Well, the mad-blogger is back...

Just wanted to post a quick blog that we made it to London... We were so thankful to have an open seat between Stephanie and I so Johanna could sleep. The girls did really well... I did too, thankfully. At the beginning of the flight, for the first half hour, I thought I was getting the stomach flu. I felt awful. And then it went away... So, praise God for his caring for us and for just his provision and especially these cozy little couches in the terminal 5 at London to rest... SO enjoy the pics.... and we'll update you when we get there...

Monday, January 05, 2009

Less than a week...

I have had a few people tell me that they look forward to having me back in Zambia so they can know what is going on in my life. It is crazy how crazy busy our schedule has been this past month. We have packed 7 months into a year. So, we go back to Africa now to rest:)

I preached yesterday at Northlake Community Church in Bellingham in the morning and then at the Downtown Church in Bellevue in the evening. It was a great day and I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to share the Word with these churches.

Thank you all for your support, prayers and encouragement.

We leave Sunday at 6:40 from Sea-Tac.

The next blogpost will probably be from Zambia.