Sunday, December 31, 2006

New Year's Eve

Well, 2006 is almost gone. I can tell by the nearly constant fireworks I'm hearing. And frankly, I'm not too sorry to see it go. The year had some good moments, but it seemed to hold a lot more questions than answers. I am looking forward to a clean slate in 2007 and am hoping and praying that I can make better use of it than I did this year.

I only transported three people to church this morning. When the students are off-campus, nobody is visiting their contacts out in the barangays. So some of the casual attendees slack off on their attendance. Of course, a lot of people are traveling for the holidays, too. I had just picked up my last rider in the barangay and was headed back out onto the main road when one of the ladies hollered at me to stop. Mr. Ambrocio, an older gentleman, had gotten in the back of the vehicle. Neither of the fold-down seats were folded down, but he didn't change that. He was just squatting in the back of the car, and apparently having some trouble doing so. I don't know if he didn't know how to fold the seats down or if he didn't think he should change something on my car. At any rate, I talked him into moving to the vacant front passenger seat.

We didn't have our English Sunday school class last week, so we had our Christmas lesson today. Mrs. Clark taught on the story of the Magi and the flight to Egypt. Pastor Bong preached on John 10:10 in the morning worship service, and we celebrated communion together. The elements today were cookies and Coke. Grape juice is pretty expensive and not readily available, so substitutes are often used. We also ran out of communion cups, so I only had a cookie.

After a nap, I got up and tried to do some thinking about budgeting for the new year. Even though I think we live pretty frugally, expenses don't seem to fall far short of income. I know when we move back to the US this spring, we're in for a reality check. A lot of our expenses are covered here that we're going to have to shell out for when we get back. Hopefully, we're able to still keep body and soul together and still have enough to give to others. I'm not losing any sleep over it.

Well, the fireworks are getting louder. In just a few minutes, we're having our new year's fellowship here on campus. It's not technically a watch-night service, just a little devotional time, some snack-eating and playing games. I personally would rather go to bed and get my new year started right (with a full night's sleep) but I realize that this is probably an important event to some, and I'm sure I will have fun.

Monday, December 18, 2006

A few choice tidbits from Epictetus

If you are told that such an one speaks ill of you, make no defence against what was said, but answer, He surely knew not my other faults, else he would not have mentioned these only!

In company avoid frequent and undue talk about your own actions and dangers. However pleasant it may be to you to enlarge upon the risks you have run, others may not find such pleasure in listening to your adventures...To border on coarse talk is also dangerous. On such occasions, if a convenient opportunity offer, rebuke the speaker. If not, at least by relapsing into silence, colouring, and looking annoyed, show that you are displeased with the subject.

When Xanthippe was chiding Socrates for making scanty preparation for entertaining his friends, he answered:—“If they are friends of ours, they will not care for that; if they are not, we shall care nothing for them!”

Saturday, December 16, 2006

2007 Statistical Report

Thanks to Wendie for pointing out this article about the Census Bureau's 2007 Statistical Abstract of the United States.

Some of the statistics I found most interesting:

Americans spent more of their lives than ever — about eight-and-a-half hours a day — watching television, using computers, listening to the radio, going to the movies or reading. Adolescents and adults now spend, on average, more than 64 days a year watching television. 13 million created a blog.

Americans are getting fatter, but now drink more bottled water per person than beer.

More Americans were born in 2004 than in any years except 1960 and 1990. Meanwhile, the national divorce rate, 3.7 divorces per 1,000 people, was the lowest since 1970.

And, of course, one thing Americans produce more of is solid waste — 4.4 pounds per day, up from 3.7 pounds in 1980. What a delightful job it must be to work for the Census Bureau!

2007

OK Go

I know most of you have probably seen OK Go's treadmill video but if you somehow missed it, check it out. It's just amazing that they can shoot a whole video this complex in a single take. If you like that kind of thing, you might check out their footwork in this other video of theirs. We've come a long ways since Jamiroquai.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Atheism

Every religion has a different conception of God. There are some shared characteristics between the various faiths; for example, most religions claim that people need salvation. But when we begin to compare religions, we see that the differences are often far greater than the similarities. Each religion presents a fundamentally different way of attaining salvation. These basic differences are the things that make religions distinct; it is impossible to reconcile them. Logically, contradictory statements cannot all be true; either one picture of God is true, or all of them are false.

Some would say that each religion has a little bit of the truth, and that if you would combine all of the “little bits,” you would see the true God. Sometimes the story of the blind men and the elephant is used to illustrate this idea. Here’s a version of the story that I found on a Jain website.

Once upon a time, there lived six blind men in a village. One day the villagers told them, "Hey, there is an elephant in the village today."

They had no idea what an elephant was. They decided, "Even though we would not be able to see it, let us go and feel it anyway." All of them went where the elephant was. Every one of them touched the elephant.

"Hey, the elephant is a pillar," said the first man who touched his leg.

"Oh, no! It is like a rope," said the second man who touched the tail.

"Oh, no! It is like a thick branch of a tree," said the third man who touched the
trunk of the elephant.

"It is like a big hand fan" said the fourth man who touched the ear of the elephant.

"It is like a huge wall," said the fifth man who touched the belly of the elephant.

"It is like a solid pipe," said the sixth man who touched the tusk of the elephant.

They began to argue about the elephant and every one of them insisted that he was right. It looked like they were getting agitated. A wise man was passing by and he saw this. He stopped and asked them, "What is the matter?" They said, "We cannot agree to what the elephant is like." Each one of them told what he thought the elephant was like. The wise man calmly explained to them, "All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently is because each one of you touched the different part of the elephant. So, actually the elephant has all those features what you all said."

"Oh!" everyone said. There was no more fight. They felt happy that they were all right.

The moral of the story is that there may be some truth to what someone says. Sometimes we can see that truth and sometimes not because they may have different perspective which we may not agree to. So, rather than arguing like the blind men, we should say, "Maybe you have your reasons." This way we don’t get in arguments.

There is a problem with this story as an illustration, though. If God is the elephant and we are the blind men, who is the wise man that passes by to tell us about the big picture? There is no person who is standing far enough away from the situation to see the big picture. So this story which tries to show that nobody has a correct picture of God actually illustrates the opposite. To say that somebody has a complete and correct view of God—that they see the whole elephant—is exactly what this story says can’t happen. So, we have the question: What is God like? Which God exists?

In our past discussions, we have looked at some good reasons to believe that a God exists. We have also come up with a partial list of some of the characteristics or attributes that this God must have. From the cosmological and design arguments, we learned that God is necessary, powerful, transcendent, non-contingent, intelligent and personal. The moral argument told us that God has a moral will and purpose and that he is engaged in the world; that is, he cares about how people live. We can add one other item to our checklist; God is unique—there is nothing and no one else similar to him. If God meets all of the other characteristics we have listed, there could not be anything that exists except what he has created. No other god could exist.

So, we can make a checklist that will help us eliminate some false ideas of God. If you remember the story of Cinderella, you remember how the prince went around his kingdom with a glass slipper to find the girl he fell in love with at the ball. We can use our “glass slipper” to check out some ideas of God to see if it fits on them. Religions that deny these attributes must have a false view of God or, at least, needs to explain how their god can really exist. So let’s take our checklist and look for the real God.

The first worldview we will examine is atheism. The word ‘atheism’ comes from the negative ‘a’ which means ‘no’ and ‘theos’ which means ‘god.’ So, atheism in the simplest terms means ‘no god.’ Basically, atheism is the lack of belief in a god and/or the belief that there is no god. By contrast, theism is the belief that there is a God and that He is knowable. I need to mention that most atheists do not consider themselves anti-theists. Most consider themselves as non-theists.

Many atheists claim that atheism is not a belief system while others say it is. Since there is no official atheist organization, nailing down which definition of atheism to use can be difficult. Here are some definitions offered by atheists.
• "An atheist is someone who believes and/or knows there is no god."
• "An atheist lacks belief in a god."
• "An atheist exercises no faith in the concept of god at all."
• "An atheist is someone who is free from religious oppression and bigotry."
• "An atheist is someone who is a free-thinker, free from religion and its ideas."

Whichever definition you go by, atheism denies God.

There are two main categories of atheists: strong and weak, with variations in between. A strong atheist actively believes and states that no God exists. They expressly denounce the Christian God along with any other god. Strong atheists are usually more aggressive in their conversations with theists and try to shoot holes in theistic beliefs. They like to use logic and anti-biblical evidences to denounce God's existence.

Atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell would probably fall into this camp; he wrote:

Religion is based, I think, primarily and mainly upon fear. It is partly the terror of the unknown and partly, as I have said, the wish to feel that you have a kind of elder brother who will stand by you in all your troubles and disputes. Fear is the basis of the whole thing—fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death. . . . Science can teach us, and I think our own hearts can teach us, no longer to look around for imaginary supports, no longer to invent allies in the sky, but rather to look to our own efforts here below to make this world a fit place to live in, instead of the sort of place that the churches in all these centuries have made it.

Weak atheists simply exercise no faith in God. The weak atheist might be better explained as a person who lacks belief in God the way a person might lack belief that there is a green lizard in a rocking chair on the moon; it isn't an issue. He doesn't believe or not believe it.

We look at the world through certain presuppositions. The atheist has a set of presuppositions, too. Here are some basic principles that atheists, as a whole, tend to adopt. Not all atheists would agree with all of these ideas; the only absolute common one they hold to is that they do not believe in a God or gods.

1. There is no God or devil.
2. There is no supernatural realm.
3. Miracles cannot occur.
4. There is no such thing as sin as a violation of God's will.
5. Generally, the universe is materialistic and measurable.
6. Man is material.
7. Generally, evolution is considered a scientific fact.
8. Ethics and morals are relative

Obviously, no version of this worldview matches up with any item on our checklist. Atheism rejects everything we discovered in the cosmological, design and moral arguments. But it does not provide adequate explanations for how the universe began, why there is such evidence of design in the universe, or why there is objective morality. Atheists have to rely on ideas like actual infinites in the real world, biological evolution and relativism; but, as we have seen, all of these ideas are seriously flawed.

Atheism isn’t actually a religion, but there is a religion that basically is atheistic. Buddhism doesn’t really rely on the existence of a God. God isn’t necessary in Buddhist philosophy; and, if God does exist, it doesn’t affect anything about Buddhist thought or practice. It is a godless religion.

While the arguments for the existence of God are strong ones, there are many people who have rejected them—even people whom the world considers important and intelligent. Sigmund Freud, Charles Darwin, Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Marx, Francis Crick (one of the discoverers of DNA) and Thomas Edison were all atheists. Isaac Asimov is a respected author, but he doesn’t seem to appreciate any of the arguments for God’s existence. He wrote:

The notion of an eternal universe introduces a great many difficulties, some of them apparently (at least in the present state of our scientific knowledge) insuperable, but scientists are not disturbed by difficulties—those all make up the game. If all the difficulties were gone and all the questions answered, the game of science would be over.

In other words, he is saying that the atheistic worldview doesn’t make sense, but that science would rather keep looking for ways to make it make sense, instead of just accepting the existence of God.

Actually, true atheism is a self-refuting philosophy. There are no "proofs" that God does not exist in atheist circles, especially since you can't prove a negative regarding God's existence. Of course, I’m not saying that atheists haven’t tried to offer some proofs that God does not exist, but their “proofs” are always too limited. After all, how do you prove there is no God in the universe? How do you prove that in all places and all times, there is no God? You can't. If there were a proof of God’s non-existence, then atheists would be continually using it. But we don’t hear of any such commonly held proof supporting atheism or denying God’s existence. The atheist position is very difficult, if not impossible, to prove since it is an attempt to prove a negative. Therefore, since there are no proofs for atheism’s truth and there are no proofs that there is no God, the atheist must hold his position by faith.

There is only one way that atheism is intellectually defensible and that is in the realm of simple possibility. In other words, it may be possible that there is no God; but stating that something is possible doesn't mean that it is a reality or that it is wise to adopt the position. If I said it is possible that there is an ice cream factory on Jupiter, does that make it intellectually defensible or a position worth adopting merely because it is merely a possibility? So, simply claiming a possibility based on nothing more than it being a possible option, no matter how remote, is not sufficient grounds for atheists to claim viability in their atheism. They must come up with more than "It is possible," or "There is no evidence for God," otherwise, there really must be an ice cream factory on Jupiter and the atheist should start defending the position that Jupiter ice cream exists.

Some atheists understand this problem with their worldview, so they don’t claim that God doesn’t exist. At best, atheists can only say that there are no convincing evidences for God so far presented. They cannot say there are no evidences for God because the atheist cannot know all evidences that possibly exist in the world. At best, the atheist can only say that the evidence so far presented has been insufficient. This logically means that there could be evidences presented in the future that will be sufficient. The atheist has to admit that there may indeed be a proof that has so far been undiscovered and that the existence of God is possible. This would make the atheist more of an agnostic. In fact, this view is sometimes known as “strong agnosticism.”

Atheism fails all ten items on our checklist, so we can reject it as a possible way of understanding God. It doesn’t even have a foot to try our glass slipper on. So let’s move on to a related worldview—agnosticism.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Filipino English

One thing that always amazes me is the Filipino use of the thesaurus. That's the only way I can envision them coming up with sentences filled with the grandest English vocabulary. Witness this proclamation from the judge in the just-completed Subic Bay Marine rape case: The rapist will go to prison for 40 years, in order "to protect women against the unbridled bestiality of persons who cannot control their libidinous proclivity." Well, who wouldn't want to restrict libidinous proclivity?

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Harvest Day San Jose


We were out of bed at 4:30 this morning and getting ready for our trip to Barangay San Jose, Sudipen, La Union for Harvest Day. Our school doesn't receive enough in the way of finances to tackle necessary building projects, so we have a number of "Harvest Days" to try to raise funds for these needs. This year we are raising money to replace the ladies' dorm which is much too small and has nearly been destroyed by termites. We schedule a certain Sunday for each of our supporting districts and then all of the faculty and a number of the students spread out over that district to conduct promotional services in each of the local churches. Today was the Harvest Day for the Northwestern Luzon District.

We packed six students into our car with us and dropped them off at various churches along the way to our destination. We had never traveled this route exactly, but with a map and my GPS receiver, we made it through okay. We took a "shortcut" at one point that included some unpaved roads. We weren't too sure about that one, but it got us to where we needed to go well enough that I used the same route on the way home.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Changing money

We were about out of pesos in our personal cash today, so I made a trip to Urdaneta this morning. The first money-changer I went to cashed $300, but she wouldn't accept the other two $100 bills. She said something about not having those serial numbers yet. I went to another money changer, and she took my money and told me to have a seat. After she finished with another customer, she called me back to the counter and told me she didn't have any cash and that I should go back to the other money-changer. I tried a money-changer in the mall, and she also told me she had no cash.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Look who's back...back again

Okay, I know it's been forever since I posted, but honestly, life's been a little too crazy lately. We had to make an emergency trip to the United States for three weeks due to a death in my wife's family. We've been back in the Philippines for almost a week now. I think we're finally over our jetlag and we're almost all healthy again.

So, it's time to get back to work. I really tried to knuckle down today. We left the week of finals, so there were lots of requirements that had been handed in and finals that hadn't been graded. We had the students submit things to the academic dean while we were gone, so I headed over to his house to collect the submissions. It was pouring down rain (as it did all day today; we're in the midst of a typhoon), so I carried an umbrella and picked my way carefully across campus. Along the way, I stopped at a couple of other faculty houses to drop off some chocolates we had brought back from the US. Most of the other faculty were just getting their day started; they had gone out of town to hold promotional services over the weekend and had returned late last night. The academic dean gave me the papers I needed. I asked if there was a schedule for this semster's classes (which starts next Monday). He said he was working on it.

Back at home, I sat down and began working on grading missions papers. There were only 12 students in that class, but it seemed like I wasn't able to get very far. They each wrote a paper on a world religion and on an Asian country. I got most of the world religion papers read, but I haven't even started on the country reports. I got interrupted several times because we are trying to start Elijah on "school" this week. We found some interesting curriculum at letteroftheweek.com. I had read most of the material, but Tiffany was the one teaching, so she had to ask me for direction a few times. I think it was a bit of a rough start, but we'll keep trying and hopefully he'll begin to find it a part of his routine. We're also working on potty-training him, but we're very much in the beginning stages of that.

Anyhow, back to grading papers. Finally, I switched to grading philosophy papers. There were 20 students in that class, and they also had 2 papers each. One was supposed to be a personal life philosophy. That was a hard one to grade, primarily because none of the students seemed to understand what I was asking for. I wanted them to give their personal answers to the big questions of life, like "What is real?", "What is true?", "Is there meaning to existence?", etc. Instead, what I got was a hodgepodge of testimonies, pity sayings, description of their ideal spouses, etc. Then there was one girl had a typewritten paper of about 3400 words, which was a little hard to grade alongside another which was about 80 words scrawled on a piece of typing paper.

The other paper was even worse.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

My Pirate Name



My pirate name is:



Mad Roger Flint



Every pirate is a little bit crazy. You, though, are more than just a little bit. Like the rock flint, you're hard and sharp. But, also like flint, you're easily chipped, and sparky. Arr!

Get your own pirate name from piratequiz.com.
part of the fidius.org network

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Church Fellowship

Here's the sermon I preached in chapel this morning. It's based on an outline by Steven Olford. I welcome your comments.

This month, we are talking about another one of the reasons that we’re here on earth. We are formed for God’s family. In other words, we are not meant to live life on our own; we are meant to live in fellowship with other Christians. And this is one of those areas where I think Filipinos have a naturally far greater understanding than Americans.
Here in the Philippines and, really throughout Asia, there is an emphasis on doing things as a group, in living in cooperation with other people. In the United States, the hero is always the person who goes against everyone else, bravely fighting against all odds for some noble cause. American literature and American movies are full of people like the Lone Ranger and others, who stand alone against the forces of evil.
Courageous independence makes for exciting stories, but it’s not a good pattern for a Christian life. In fact, I would say that it’s almost impossible to live a healthy Christian life in isolation. I know that there are rare occasions where someone is the only Christian in their village or someone is in prison for their faith and can’t meet with other Christians, and I believe that in those cases, God gives them a special grace to live alone. But, if we have the opportunity to meet with other brothers and sisters in Christ and to live and work in fellowship with them, and we refuse to do that, it will almost certainly lead us to spiritual coldness, uselessness and backsliding. I think that’s what the writer to the Hebrews had in mind when he wrote, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:24-25). It is so important that we be in fellowship with other Christians; we were formed for God’s family!
To help us understand this principle of fellowship, I want to look at two passages that show us how it was practiced in the early church. I don’t suppose there’s ever been a more successful and Spirit-filled church than the first century church in the days just after Pentecost, and we can learn a lot from studying the way that church functioned. Let’s get our Bibles out and turn to Acts 2, and read Luke’s description of this early church. Acts 2, starting with verse 41: 41Those who accepted his [Peter’s] message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. 42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
In a few minutes, we’ll look at another passage of Scripture where Paul gives some instructions on fellowship, but let’s stop and notice some things about the fellowship that this early church was practicing.
The first thing I want to notice is the membership of the fellowship of the church. Verse 42 says, “They devoted themselves to the…fellowship.” The Bible tells us that membership in the fellowship of the church is both exclusive and inclusive.
First, the church’s membership is exclusive in its constitution. When I say that the church’s membership is exclusive, I mean that not everyone is a member of the church; some people are excluded. Everyone on earth is God’s creation, but not all people are God’s children. Verse 41 says, “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.” The only people who can really have fellowship in the church are those who have accepted Jesus Christ. Our relationship with other Christians is based, first of all, upon our relationship with Christ himself. Only true Christians can enjoy Christian fellowship. We can have unsaved friends, but we can never really have true fellowship with someone who doesn’t know our Savior.
In the early church, we see that all of the members of the church—of their fellowship—had some things in common. First, they all had experienced conviction of sin. Look back at verse 37: “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’” Their membership in the church also required a conversion of life. That means that the members had given up their sins, had placed their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and had received the gift of the Holy Spirit. Verse 38 says: “Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’” And all the members had a third thing in common. They had all made a public confession of faith. In verse 41, we read: “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.” So, the church’s membership was exclusive; only those who had been convicted of their sin, been converted to Christ and made a confession of faith were included.
But there is another sense in which we could say that the church’s membership is inclusive in its composition. Look at verse 39 to see who is included in the offer of fellowship. “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” Do you remember who Peter was preaching to on the Day of Pentecost? Verse 5 tells us that there were Jewish listeners gathered in Jerusalem “from every nation under heaven.” So when Peter says “you and your children,” he is already being very inclusive. But just to make sure that everyone understands who God is including in his plan of salvation, Peter adds that the promise of the Holy Spirit is also to “all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
Even though the membership and fellowship of the church is only open to those who have accepted Christ, there is no limitation or distinction of class or color. When Jesus died on Calvary he died for all of us, whether we’re white or brown, rich or poor, high society or homeless. In John 6:37, Jesus says, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” He doesn’t turn anyone away from his church, no matter what they look like or where they came from. Romans 2:11 says, “For God does not show favoritism.” All people are the same in his eyes. That’s why we can look forward to that day in heaven when we will see what the apostle John saw. In Revelation 5:9, John witnesses the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders falling down before the Lamb that was slain, and he writes, “And they sang a new song: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.’” And in chapter 7, John says, “After this I looked and there was before me a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.” Yes, the fellowship of the church has an exclusive membership in that only Christians can be a part, but I praise God that it’s inclusive enough to include you and me and anyone else who is willing to accept Christ’s offer of grace.
The second thing I want us to look at is the maintenance of the fellowship of the church. How was the early church able to maintain a good spirit and life of fellowship? Again, verse 42 tells us that “they devoted themselves . . . to the fellowship.” As we study the New Testament and the regular habits of the local churches, we discover two important elements that maintained the life and health and growth of the Christian community.
The first element was the fellowship of meeting. You can’t really call yourself a member of a community or a fellowship, if you never get together with the other members of that fellowship. When Paul writes to the Corinthian church, he refers to the occasions “when you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus” (1 Corinthians 5:4). When we look closely at the expression “assembled,” we discover that the main reason for their meeting wasn’t to preach evangelistic messages or to be a public witness to the world. They were gathering together primarily for fellowship in Christ.
Paul describes one of these Christian meetings in 1 Corinthians 14. Let’s see how services were conducted in those early days of the church. 1 Corinthians 14, beginning in verse 26 and continuing through the end of the chapter:
26What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. 27If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. 28If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God. 29Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. 30And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. 31For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. 32The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. 33For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. As in all the congregations of the saints, 34women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. 35If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. 36Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? 37If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. 38If he ignores this, he himself will be ignored. 39Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.
In this chapter, Paul is describing what services were like in the first years of the church, at least in the church at Corinth. One person would lead a hymn or a song of praise. Another would come with a word of instruction, some exposition of truth. Yet another would share a revelation, a declaration of some inner and secret experience of Christ. Some person who was going through great suffering would give a testimony of how God had blessed them, and others who were feeling sad would be uplifted. A working man, in his rough, honest speech, would tell of a victory in his life, helping other Christians to see how they could deal with the struggles in their lives. The quiet ministry of some gifted brother or sister would stimulate growth in the things of God.
There seem to have been two principles that were to guide the gatherings of the believers. They are found in verses 26 and 40. First, “all of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.” In other words, every part of the meeting should be conducted in a spirit of helpfulness. As Christians sang or testified or spoke, they should be thinking about how their ministry would benefit the other Christians there. Second, “Everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.” In other words, there should be a spirit of harmony; because, as verse 33 reminds us, “God is not a God of disorder but of peace.”
When John Wesley was living and the Methodist church was seeing great growth and revival, the center of the church’s life were fellowship meetings known as “class meetings.” A leader in another denomination once commented that if he could convince his church to start class meetings, he would do it immediately and he would require every member of their church to attend them.
So, meeting together is the first thing we have to do to maintain the health of our Christian community. The second element is the fellowship of serving.
In 2 Corinthians 8:4, Paul talks about “the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.” Another version calls it the “fellowship of ministering to the saints.” If you were to take a Greek lexicon and trace the word “fellowship” and the other English words that are used to translate that idea, you would find that all of the ministries carried out in the church are ministries of sharing. The Bible does talk about the use of individual spiritual gifts, but it never talks about using those gifts to benefit oneself or using them outside of the context of the fellowship of believers. All gifts and all ministries are designed to work together. Nobody has all of the gifts, so that we all have to depend upon each other and so that no one will be selfish with the gifts that they’ve been given. This is why the Bible uses the human body as a picture of the church. No one member can afford to lose any other members; they are all needed and they all share in the function of the whole body.
We would have no trouble growing our churches, and we would have no trouble maintaining them, if we would develop this spirit of sharing in our meeting together and serving together.
Stephen Olford tells about listening to an African elder, who was preaching about the need for Christian fellowship. As he spoke, he used an illustration that his fellow tribesmen would easily understand. He said, “You know as well as I do that the secret of warmth, light and happiness in our grass huts is to keep the fire in the center of the mud floor burning brightly. This can only be done by keeping the burning logs close to each other. Let one of them roll away from the others and its flame dies out, and it begins to smoke, smell and become useless. That is just like Christian fellowship. As long as we keep close together we are warm, full of light and happiness, but when anyone slips away, we know it at once; there is coldness and uselessness.” It is so important for us to maintain our fellowship, by faithfully meeting together and serving each other.
In our remaining time this morning, I want us to look at some of the manifestations of the fellowship of the church. Verses 42 and 43 say, “They devoted themselves to . . . fellowship . . . and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.” As we look at these verses in the last part of Acts 42, we see several signs or manifestations of what true Christian fellowship should look like. It’s amazing to see the unity and the joy and the effectiveness of this early church! Some commentaries would say that the experience was just a temporary arrangement, made possible by the large number of new Christians in Jerusalem. That may be true, but I think we would have to admit that every part of their love for each other and their pattern of doing life together was created and controlled by the Holy Spirit. And since we still live in the age of the Holy Spirit, and he is still at work in our world, surely we ought to be seeing the same manifestations of fellowship in our churches today. In fact, if we would read this passage alongside Matthew 5 through 7, I think we would see that the fellowship enjoyed by the early church was an outworking of the Sermon on the Mount, which certainly would still apply to us today.
Let’s quickly notice seven distinctive manifestations of fellowship in this early church.
First, there was a distinctive ministry. Verse 43 says, “Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.” There was an unusual kind of ministry taking place in their gatherings. People weren’t just coming to church to sit in their chairs and listen to a sermon. There was a reverence, a sense of awe. When the believers came together for fellowship, they understood that they were meeting with God. And there was good reason for that reverence; the Christians were witnessing the supernatural power of God at work in their services. Miracles were taking place.
It’s sad to say this, but most of us don’t really believe that God can or will show up like that in our service. We say, “Oh, that’s fine for the charismatics and Pentecostals; that’s fine for Jesus Miracle Crusade.” But we don’t really expect God to work supernatural wonders and signs in our local congregations. Brothers and sisters, I think it’s time for us to start expecting God to show up in our services. If there’s nothing going on in our churches that’s unexplainable—if there’s nothing in our churches that can’t be done by human power—then I’m not sure we’re really having church! There should be something miraculous, something supernatural, something Spirit-filled and Spirit-inspired in our fellowship. Every one of us should be able to testify to the miracles we’ve seen in our congregations. I’m not talking about some person who had a cold and started feeling better ten years ago, but something that can’t be explained by anything other than the power of God.
Another sign of the fellowship in the early church was that they experienced a distinctive unity. In verse 44, we read, “All the believers were together and had everything in common.” It’s not natural for people to get along with each other; it’s not easy for people to share everything they have. But that’s what the early church did. And the world around them stood back and said, “See how they love one another!”
In the first verse of Psalm 133, David sings, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity.” The phrase “when brothers live together in unity” is similar to a phrase used in Deuteronomy 25:5 to refer to an extended family living together. This goes beyond smooth interpersonal relations; we ought to live with our brothers and sisters in Christ as though they were our actual biological brothers and sisters living with us. It’s a kind of unity where we never claim any property as our own, but where our attitude is always, “If you need it, it’s yours.”
A third demonstration of the early church’s fellowship was their distinctive charity. In verse 45, we read: “Selling their possessions and goods, [all the believers] gave to anyone as he had need.” As long as the Christians kept their spirit of fellowship, there was no one among them who could be called needy.
A fourth expression of their fellowship was a distinctive dependability. In verse 46, Luke tells us that “every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes.” They were faithful to love each other, and they were faithful to gather for fellowship. They didn’t have to be begged to come to church; they didn’t have to be threatened before they would show love for each other.
I mentioned this earlier, but it is important for us to be faithful in gathering together with other believers in the local church. Hebrews 10:23-25 says: “23Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” If the believers met daily in those early years, and we are supposed to be encouraging each other all the more as we get closer to Christ’s return, how can we expect to have a good fellowship when we only see each other for an hour or two on Sunday morning? And it’s important that, not only are we meeting together, but that we are showing hospitality, opening our hearts and our homes to each other. In Romans 12:13, Paul says, “Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” Don’t just be willing to accommodate someone when they ask you, but go out of your way to invite them into your home and, more importantly, into your life.
A fifth manifestation of their fellowship was a distinctive radiancy. There was a light of joy that shone out through them. In verse 46, it says “they . . . ate together with glad . . . hearts.” The word “glad” is an important word. It’s the word that the angel used when he announced the birth of John the Baptist to Zacharias in Luke 1:14. It means a natural, uncontainable joy that can’t be made up and can’t be held back. It’s the same quality of joy that we see when the church experiences revival.
C.H. Spurgeon once said, “A genuine revival without joy in the Lord is as impossible as spring without flowers, or day-dawn without light.”
Sixth, the early church fellowship had a distinctive purity. Verse 46 not only says that they ate together with glad hearts but also that they ate together with sincere hearts. The Greek word that is translated “sincere” is an interesting word; it doesn’t appear anywhere else in the New Testament. It was originally used to describe the smoothness of soil that doesn’t have any stones in it. Later, it began to mean an evenness or simplicity of character. These early Christians had the spiritual quality of transparency and openness. There were no hidden stones in the soil of their heart. They wanted God’s best for them, and they wanted to give their best for God. They didn’t hold anything back; there were no secret areas of their lives, no areas where God wasn’t free to move, and no areas where their brothers and sisters weren’t allowed to confront them.
We don’t have time to really explore the basis and the beauty of the purified life, but let’s just take a moment to read 1 John 1:5-10: “5This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. 7But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. 8If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.” You see in verse 7 that purity and fellowship go hand in hand. When we are walking in the light, we have fellowship with each other and we are purified from all unrighteousness.
Finally, we see that this early fellowship of believers had a distinctive liberty. In verse 47, it says that they were “praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.” There was nothing holding them back; they had thrown off their limitations and their inhibitions. And spiritually hungry people saw this freedom in Christ—they saw this fellowship in Christ—and it was so attractive that they were drawn to the church and to Jesus. That doesn’t mean that the church compromised in any way. What Luke is saying is that the fellowship of the believers was so convincing and so captivating that people couldn’t help but admire it. And, as a result, “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
Liberty in Jesus will attract the unbeliever. People don’t come to church and to Jesus because they need more rules in their lives. They come because they see other Christians who are experiencing a freedom in their lives, a freedom from sin but also a freedom in Christ to worship God without holding anything back.
My prayer today is that there will be an army of churches that will rise up guarded by the Holy Spirit in their membership, guided by the Holy Spirit in their maintenance, and governed by the Holy Spirit in their manifestations. I pray that, through these churches—through these believers living in fellowship—the world will see that Jesus lives, and that daily we will see added to our churches those who are being saved. We were formed for God’s family; we were made for fellowship.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Midterms

I didn't do much today besides write a couple of midterm examinations. I'm a little worried that the students aren't going to do too well. I tried to make the exams a little easier than usual, but things are conspiring against their success. A former president of the college has come to teach a module on major and minor prophets for the third-year students. Consequently, those students are spending 5 hours a day in that class as well as a couple hours of work each day. That doesn't leave much time for study. I wish there were some way around this, but there doesn't seem to be. There won't be any classes next week, because the Luzon Regional Ministerial Conference is being held here on campus. All of the students have to go home to make room for the dozens of pastors who will be coming in. Then, the following week, the third year students will continue their module.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Elijah and laundry

Dr. Turner was sick yesterday, so I ended up teaching three class periods. Consequently, I was able to finish up my Malachi class this morning. I have the devotional time tomorrow, and I probably will preach in Dandi or somewhere on Sunday, but other than that, my responsibilities are almost over.
I covered the 4th chapter of Malachi today. It’s mostly a warning about the coming “day of the LORD” with its judgment on the wicked and the satisfaction and joy of the righteous. It was a little bit smoother sailing than yesterday. There are several verses in chapter 3 that are difficult to translate, and therefore difficult to understand and apply. The biggest difficulty in chapter 4 is deciding whether or not John the Baptist fulfilled the prophecy of Elijah’s return in verses 5 and 6. John’s dad prophesies that he will minister in the spirit and power of Elijah, and Jesus says that John the Baptist was Elijah, if you can accept it. But John the Baptist explicitly said that he wasn’t Elijah. The answer is possibly found in Matthew 17, where Jesus says, “Elijah comes” after John the Baptist died. So, it seems that John was the fulfillment of Malachi 3:1 but not Malachi 4:5-6. Elijah may be one of the two witnesses who stand in the streets and preach for 3 ½ years during the Tribulation (if you can accept it). Aren’t you glad you read that paragraph? Time well spent.
Anyhow, there was a power outage shortly after class, so that put a damper on my plans to do laundry. I had some battery left on my computer, so I went online to check e-mail and chatted for a few moments with a high school buddy, Rick, and my erstwhile Yahoo! Spades partner, Weezy. Rick just got back from a missions trip to Yakama Indian Reservation, so we chatted about that a little, until I ran out of battery.
When the power came back on, I did enough laundry to get me through the rest of the trip. Doing laundry is a blog of its own, but the short version is: You fill 2 or 3 buckets of water from a faucet in the shower. You dump them in the washing machine and add some soap. Then you put the clothes in and start the timer. The timer ticks but the machine doesn’t agitate. You decide the load’s too heavy, so you take some clothes out. You continue taking out more and more clothes. Soon all the clothes are out, but it’s still not agitating. You worry that you burned out the motor. You go ask Mrs. Turner if there’s some trick to making the washer agitate. She suggests flipping the switch on the outlet. You go back to the bathroom and flick the switch. The washer begins agitating. You put the clothes back in. You take the jeans back out, because they’re too heavy. After a few minutes, you take some other clothes out and put the jeans back in. After a few more minutes, you take all the clothes out and drain the water into the shower. You rinse out the washer tub and add 2 or 3 more buckets of water. You put the clothes back in, sans jeans, natch, and rinse for a while. Etc., etc. You get the picture.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Jehoshaphat

I led devotions again today. This time, I focused on the story of Jehoshaphat from 2 Chronicles 20. If you don’t remember the story, I would encourage you to read it for yourself, but I’ll give you the synopsis with a few things I gleaned from it. Jehoshaphat was about to face a big problem. The Moabites and Ammonites were getting ready to attack Judah. Then, Jehoshaphat gets a message that the Edomites have decided this would be a good time to launch their attack as well. So, Judah is facing three armies, any one of which would stand a decent chance of destroying them. I drew from this story three keys for facing our enemies.

The first thing Jehoshaphat did was called all of the people in Judah together for a time of prayer and fasting. Jehoshaphat gathered the people in the temple courtyard and prayed, “Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you. . . . We have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.” The first step in facing our enemy is to acknowledge our weakness and God’s strength; we do that through fasting and prayer. When I was an associate pastor at El Dorado Springs, I really saw this put into action. When Pastor Joe first came to the church, he preached on prayer every service for weeks in a row. At first, the people thought they had made a mistake in calling such a “one-track” pastor, but eventually they got the message and began to pray. Many prayer ministries started—pastor’s prayer partners, Week of Waiting, 24 hours of prayer and fasting, 40 days of prayer and fasting. One of the most powerful ministries was Gideon’s Army. This was a group of about 50 people who met every Sunday night following the evening service. They would choose one unsaved person in the community and corporately agree to pray for that person during that week. They specifically prayed that God would bring conviction to that person’s heart. Many times, that person would be in the service the following Sunday, white-knuckling the pew in front of them. We saw many people come to Christ as a result of the prayers of Gideon’s Army.

The next thing that happened in Jehoshaphat’s story was that a prophet named Jahaziel stood up. He gave some words of encouragement that God had heard their prayer. And then he gives some strategic advice. He tells Jehoshaphat that the battle is not his; it’s God’s. Jehoshaphat won’t even have to fight. “Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the LORD will give you.” That sounds like pretty good advice in theory—just stand still and let God fight your battle for you. But it’s a lot harder to put into practice when the enemy is (or three enemies are) marching toward you. Many of us have a hard time with standing still. We have our own ideas about how our enemies should be handled, and they rarely include inaction. But that’s what Jehoshaphat had to be willing to do. So, that’s the second step—patience and faithfulness.

Finally, the morning comes, and it’s time for Jehoshaphat to go and face the battle. He chooses an unusual strategy. He puts the choir in the front lines of his army. Not swords, not lances, not cavalry, not archers—singers. They march to the battleground, singing and praising God. Apparently they got a late start, because they missed the entire battle. While Judah was still on their way, the armies of Moab and Ammon allied against the army of Edom and destroyed it. Then, a dispute broke out between their two armies and they completely annihilated each other. So when Jehoshaphat and the army/choir of Judah arrived, there was nothing left to do except pick up the spoils of war. Pretty cool, huh?

So, in case you weren’t paying attention, the three steps were:
1. Prayer and fasting
2. Patience and faithfulness
3. Praise and worship (anybody have a synonym for worship that starts with F?)
If we could really learn to put those three things into practice, we might find that God fights a lot of our battles for us and we could enjoy more of the blessings he wants to give us.

We made it a little farther in Malachi today. I only have three more days to teach, so I need to accelerate it a bit. Today, we finished up discussing his second oracle, which is about honoring God, and started into his third oracle, which is about being faithful (or, at least, not being unfaithful). In Malachi 2, he gives us a good picture of what a minister should be, probably drawn from the life of Phinehas. You may not be a vocational minister, but you might find these good qualities to develop in your own life:
1. He revered God. He always showed God proper respect and honor.
2. He stood in awe of God’s name.
3. True instruction was in his mouth.
4. Nothing false was found on his lips.
5. He walked with God in peace and uprightness.
6. He turned many from sin.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Vapi church

Yesterday presented a new challenge. Pastor Linus Justin arranged for me to come to his church and preach in the morning service. I had brought a few sermons along for just that eventuality, so I wasn’t too stressed (although I wasn’t really sure what the best approach for this particular congregation was). I had to preach through an interpreter, but I’m getting lots of practice teaching with translation in our Bible class. This was a little different, though, because Linus’s native tongue is Gujarati, but he was translating from English into Hindi. Can you imagine trying to translate from your 3rd language into your 2nd language? Of course not. You’re American; you only speak one language.
Preaching wasn’t the challenge, though. The congregation sings songs in both Hindi and English, but Linus wanted them to learn some new English songs. So he asked me to teach them. Some of you have had the distinct, um, privilege of hearing me sing; some of you perhaps remain yet unscarred. At any rate, I plunged ahead and taught them “Holy, Holy” and “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” A capella, no less. As part of my welcome, I was again presented with flowers—this time, a heavy garland to wear around my neck.
The church meets in an apartment building. Most of the residents are Hindu, but they have not given the church any problems. The church has over 50 members. Most of them are migrants to Vapi from other parts of India; that’s why the service is held in English and Hindi. Vapi is a major industrial center, drawing workers from around the country to its factories. Often, church members have to work on Sundays, so we had about 35 in attendance. Honestly, that’s about all the chairs there were. Some latecomers sat on a carpet in the front of the church, until they were invited to take the last available chairs.
Most of the congregation came forward and shook my hand after the service. After many had departed, Linus introduced me to several of the non-Christian visitors to the service. One was a Hindu family that he is meeting with each Friday. Linus brought each member of the family to me and told me a prayer request for them. I would then lay my hand on that person’s shoulder and pray over them. One was beginning a job as a teacher; one was beginning college. Another was suffering from physical problems; another looking for a job. Finally, he introduced another lady to me who still has not converted but is reading the Bible every day. She asked me to pray that she would understand what God is trying to tell her through the Scriptures. It was so incredible to have that one-on-one contact with these people and to pray over them.
We stopped for soft drinks on the way home and chatted some more and then came back to Pardi for lunch. We had a bit of a nap, and then I had a good chat with the Turners about our future ministry endeavors. Tiffany and I will still have a lot of conversation and prayer about this before it’s all over, but I felt like this talk really did help narrow my focus a little bit.
For the evening meal, we went to the house of Seema’s family. Seema is Linus’ wife. The food was excellent, and topped off with some ice cream. We spent some time looking at the wedding photos of Seema’s brother Anand and his bride Joyana (who was there also). It looks like there are a lot of similarities with American weddings, but a few differences.
This morning, I led the devotional time. I talked about the confrontation between Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. I have used this a few different places, so I may have blogged about it before. If so, just hear it again. Here’s the short version. 1. Elijah preaches a sermon. It’s a great sermon, but the peoples’ response is silence. 2. Elijah proposes a program. He suggests a contest between Yahweh and Baal; the peoples’ response is: “Yeah, that’s a good idea.” 3. Elijah prays and God shows up. God sends fire that consumes the sacrifice, the wood, the rocks, the dirt, the water. The peoples’ response? They fall on their faces and say, “Yahweh is God! Yahweh is God!” Moral of the story: You can preach great sermons, you can have wonderful programs, but if you’re going to really see people respond, you’re going to have to pray for God to show His power.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Vapi visit



This morning, we went to visit the Wesleyan English Medium School in Vapi. We have over 700 students attending, from nursery to 10th standard (whatever that means). We had a quick look inside their computer lab and then were ushered onto a dais, where we looked out at the entire student body gathered before us. The students had charge of a special welcome program for us. They gave little speeches of welcome, sang a welcome song, sang a prayer song, personally welcomed each of us and gave us each a bouquet of flowers. Then, each of us had to make brief remarks to the students. Finally, we were released from being public spectacles and allowed to continue touring the school building.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Malachi's First Oracle: Respond to God's Love

I woke up this morning at about 5:30. The Turners were up shortly thereafter, and we had breakfast together. At 8:30, we met with the students for a devotional time. Dr. Turner is doing a series of devotionals on life lessons from the story of Noah. He will give devotionals for the rest of this week. I’m not sure but I may be in charge of giving devotionals all next week.

I teach the first class period from 9:00 to 9:45. Yesterday, I gave the students a bit of an introduction to the book of Malachi. Today, we began to tackle the actual content. It’s a little challenging to teach with a translator, but Linus does an excellent job. We only covered the first 5 verses of the book today, but because the book only has about 45 verses, we should be right on track. I’m not sure I can actually fill 10 days of class with the content I have right now, but we’ll see. I have about 32 pages of notes, but I’ve gone through 7 of them in 2 days. The students seemed to be tracking along, and some even responded when I asked for questions at the end.

The first five verses of Malachi are about God’s great love for his people. Israel had enjoyed many, many blessings from God. He had chosen, by his own power and grace, to bless Jacob’s descendants more than he blessed Esau’s descendants. To Israel, he had given the Law, the temple, the priests, the judges, the prophets, etc. Both Israel and Edom had become wicked, and God punished them by sending them into captivity in Babylon. But, because of God’s great love, he brought Israel out of captivity and restored them to their homeland. One hundred years passed. Israel was under Persian domination, the crops were less than satisfactory and God had not yet ushered in his Messianic kingdom. In the face of these negative circumstances, Israel began to complain that God didn’t love them. They overlooked 1000 years of God’s loving provision and blessing to complain about the few things they didn’t have in the present. They forgot about the covenant God had made with Abraham and Isaac. They forgot how God chose them before Jacob was even born. They forgot how God delivered them from slavery in Egypt. They forgot how God had protected them in the wilderness. They forgot how God had given them the land of Canaan. They forgot how God had sent judges to deliver them from the messes they got themselves into. They forgot how God had brought them out of captivity, while he left Edom under Babylonian bondage. They forgot how God had allowed them to rebuild their temple, while the Edomites were again attacked by the Nabatean Arabs and forced out of their land. Their current circumstances blinded them to the overarching love God had shown them.

Malachi does a great job of pointing out the ingratitude typical of the human experience. God gave Adam and Eve thousands of trees in the Garden, but they fixated on the one tree they weren’t allowed to have. Are you there? Do you focus on one negative in your life, forgetting a long history of God’s gracious acts toward you? I know I really struggle with cynicism and a complaining spirit. I’m praying that God will help me to remember how he has worked in my life, so that I will never ask accusingly, like Israel did, “How have you loved us?”

Well, enough preaching for one blog. After class, I got online and posted my blog from last night and read a few e-mails. I tried to talk to Tiffany, but she was probably putting Elijah down for his nap. I went back to the apartment and continued class preparation. I think I’m more or less prepared for the rest of the time I will spend here. We talked a little about my plans for the end of this trip. I don’t fly out until the evening of the 24th, but I may try to go to Mumbai on the 23rd and spend the night in a hotel. That would give me a chance to run out and get the geocache on Elephant Island, do some souvenir shopping, and still get to the airport in plenty of time. Hopefully, I could leave my luggage there for a while, so that I don’t have to lug it all over the city.
I’m still keeping my ear to the ground about the situation in Mumbai, though. If things heat up any more, I will scrap the whole thing, go directly to the airport on Monday evening and get out of the country with the least bother possible.

I’m really hoping I get a chance to do one day of sightseeing. I really am seeing a very tiny slice of India. This village is about 50,000 people, but we don’t really leave the campus. We may do a little grocery shopping or something tomorrow; I’m not sure.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

India

I’m in India! On Monday afternoon, I flew from Manila to Bangkok on Thai Airways. In the Bangkok airport, I met Dr. and Mrs. Paul Turner, the Asia area directors for Global Partners. We flew on from Bangkok to Mumbai, arriving around 10:30 p.m. India time. After a long wait at the baggage carousel and a stop at the currency exchange to buy some rupees, we were greeted by Dr. Samuel Justin and his son Linus. For many years, Dr. Justin was the regional superintendent for the West India conference of the Wesleyan Church; his son Joel now holds that office. We got into their vehicle and immediately headed for the village of Pardi in Gujarat State. It was raining (this is monsoon season), so it took a little more than three hours for us to reach our destination. The time here is 2 ½ hours earlier than in Manila, so we had basically been up all night, although I did doze off and on along the way. When we arrived in Pardi, the Justins showed us to our apartment. It’s a two-bedroom apartment in a building consisting of a chapel, classrooms, etc. The accommodations are a little primitive by Western standards but very satisfactory for our needs. I put up my mosquito net, climbed into bed and fell asleep immediately.

Tuesday was, more or less, a day of rest and preparation. After we were all up and around and had a very late breakfast, we headed to Vapi, a nearby industrial center. We went to a grocery store and picked up some supplies—breakfast items, snacks, etc. While there, we were privileged to meet Linus’ wife Seema, who is the headmistress of the Wesleyan English Medium School, as well as one of their computer teachers. The school has just added the tenth standard and has about 700 students. I was given a very attractive school magazine with lots of color photos, student artwork, poems, etc. We also stopped at a local pharmacy, where Mrs. Turner ordered some medicine, available here at nearly ¼ of U.S. prices. We spent most of the rest of the day in rest and preparation for classes. We are taking our lunch and supper with the Justins. I can’t easily describe the food, except to say that it is very agreeable. We usually have rice of some variety, although it is different from what we eat in the Philippines. There is always chapatti—bread made by grinding grain into flour and adding water to make dough, which is then kneaded, rolled, and baked flat. There is also some kind of similar bread that is fried in oil. The main protein dish is usually some kind of meat or lentil stew, flavored with curry and/or other spices.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

62%

Tiff's been complaining about the fact that our back yard turns into a swamp every time she does a load of laundry, and I wasn't too thrilled about it myself. Today, I decided it was time to fix it. The current situation was a 2 1/2 inch elbow coming out of the wall with a pipe going down to the ground and an elbow shooting the water out into the yard. I told Jasson, our helper, that he could start digging a ditch, because we would lay new pipe to take the water out to the treeline. I went to work in the library until the battery on my laptop ran out. I came back and got Jasson and we went to VJ Cruz hardware store. They said they didn't have any 2.5" PVC, only 3". So we jumped back in the car and went to Northern hardware store. I told them I needed 2.5" PVC. The guy asked me blue or black. I was, like, I don't care; it's going to be underground. Apparently, though, the color corresponds to the quality. All they had in 2.5" was blue which was going to be more than $1 per foot and I needed about 40 feet. There wasn't much option though, so I told them I'd take it. "I need 3 couplings," I said. A little research revealed that they didn't have any. The proprietor's wife said I should use 3" for drainage anyhow. Again, I didn't have much choice, so I went for the 3" pipe. Fortunately, it was available in black--much cheaper. And they had the elbow that I needed. Eventually, we were back at campus with everything we needed. The only tricky part was trying to wedge the 3" pipe under the elbow barely protruding out of the wall. It just wasn't budging. I thought the elbow was metal (why I would think this, I have no idea). I tried prying it out a little with a crowbar. Of course, it was PVC and it shattered. So now, I just had a 2.5" hole in the wall. I got the boys' monitor there to help. He decided we could melt the end of a 2.5" pipe, stick it in the hole and attach an elbow to drain into the 3" pipe. So, we were running back and forth to the kitchen, melting pipe over the stove and going back outside to try to cram it in the hole. I think it's going to work. We'll see on Tiff's first big laundry day.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

59%

Here's a little visitor we had above the door to our bedroom last night:

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

57%

Right now, I'm watching Charlie Rose's interview with Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett. I'm just blown away by so many aspects of this story. Warren Buffett said that he and his wife decided many years ago that they would give their wealth to society, long before it was apparent how large that fortune would be. He pointed out that those who are going to spend their money ought to give their wealth now, but those who are going to compound their money ought to give their wealth later. The Gates Foundation is projected to save 10,000,000 lives in the next 10 years just through one vaccination program. That just blows my mind! Whatever we may think of these individuals, it's hard to fault their stewardship. And, at least on the surface, they seem completely sincere and of pure motivation. Another thing that interested me was that both Gates and Buffett commented about times in their lives when the other one had given them a book. I guess it really is true that "leaders are lifelong learners." This is why I'm kind of passionate about this library project. I want the students here at the Bible school to have a library that will really inspire them to read and learn and keep on reading and learning.

We had a good discussion in missions today about the importance of prayer. It made the kids giggle nervously, but we stopped in the middle of class and prayed for "kings and all those in authority," especially those who were involved in the persecution of the church. I have the feeling it was the first time most of them had done that.

Monday, June 26, 2006

55%

Going to Manila this weekend meant that I wasn't totally prepared for class today. Tiffany had to go to the market, and I was struggling to finish a PowerPoint for missions class while keeping Elijah entertained. They ring the bells about 10 minutes early, so I was really pretty stressed. I got it done just after Tiff came home, and I got to class almost on time. I guess it's a good thing that I have that class on our back porch.

Today, we discussed the first chapter of Acts. I've made the point before in other venues that Acts 1:8 seems to indicate that one of the primary purposes for the giving of the Holy Spirit is to empower us for witness. Our tradition has often perhaps overemphasized the purifying work of the Spirit to the detriment of His empowering work. We talked a little bit about what Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and the ends of the earth mean to us today in the Philippines, both geographically and culturally. I had each of the students state their cultural background (a bit of an eye-opener, actually) and then think of another Philippine tribe that was similar yet different and then of another tribe that was very different. I hope that I'm instilling in them at least a bit of the idea that God's plan from the beginning was a universal faith. I can't always tell, but I think they're starting to get it. We'll see how much of it sticks come exam time, or more importantly, when they're out in the pastorate.

I had to go to the bank to withdraw some missions funds to pay for my airline tickets. While I was in Urdaneta, I also needed to pick up some baby wash. I decided that I had time to get a massage while I was there. I think my masseuse was also running the front desk, so it took longer than usual. Then I ran over to the supermarket to get the baby wash. I picked it up and went to the "8 items or less" lane. This is perhaps the most abused idea in the Philippines. The people in front of me had a cart. Two spaces farther up in line was a lady who had maybe "80 items or less." After fuming for a while, I finally went up to that lady and asked her if I could go ahead of her, since I only had one item. She agreed. Then the cash register tape was messed up, so anyhow . . . an hour late getting home for lunch.

I finished up my notes on Plato for philosophy class, but I didn't get to him today. I decided that I would give my students a little oral quiz to see how they were tracking with my lectures. There were 15 questions, and the scores ranged from 2 to 15, with an average a little bit over 8. So, either I need to make some adjustments or they do. We talked about Socrates' apology, trial and death today. I can't agree with everything Socrates said and did maybe, but I think I agree with his central theses: "The unexamined life is not worth living" and to live virtuously is the highest good.

55%

Going to Manila this weekend meant that I wasn't totally prepared for class today. Tiffany had to go to the market, and I was struggling to finish a PowerPoint for missions class while keeping Elijah entertained. They ring the bells about 10 minutes early, so I was really pretty stressed. I got it done just after Tiff came home, and I got to class almost on time. I guess it's a good thing that I have that class on our back porch.

Today, we discussed the first chapter of Acts. I've made the point before in other venues that Acts 1:8 seems to indicate that one of the primary purposes for the giving of the Holy Spirit is to empower us for witness. Our tradition has often perhaps overemphasized the purifying work of the Spirit to the detriment of His empowering work. We talked a little bit about what Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and the ends of the earth mean to us today in the Philippines, both geographically and culturally. I had each of the students state their cultural background (a bit of an eye-opener, actually) and then think of another Philippine tribe that was similar yet different and then of another tribe that was very different. I hope that I'm instilling in them at least a bit of the idea that God's plan from the beginning was a universal faith. I can't always tell, but I think they're starting to get it. We'll see how much of it sticks come exam time, or more importantly, when they're out in the pastorate.

I had to go to the bank to withdraw some missions funds to pay for my airline tickets. While I was in Urdaneta, I also needed to pick up some baby wash. I decided that I had time to get a massage while I was there. I think my masseuse was also running the front desk, so it took longer than usual. Then I ran over to the supermarket to get the baby wash. I picked it up and went to the "8 items or less" lane. This is perhaps the most abused idea in the Philippines. The people in front of me had a cart. Two spaces farther up in line was a lady who had maybe "80 items or less." After fuming for a while, I finally went up to that lady and asked her if I could go ahead of her, since I only had one item. She agreed. Then the cash register tape was messed up, so anyhow . . . an hour late getting home for lunch.

I finished up my notes on Plato for philosophy class, but I didn't get to him today. I decided that I would give my students a little oral quiz to see how they were tracking with my lectures. There were 15 questions, and the scores ranged from 2 to 15, with an average a little bit over 8. So, either I need to make some adjustments or they do. We talked about Socrates' apology, trial and death today. I can't agree with everything Socrates said and did maybe, but I think I agree with his central theses: "The unexamined life is not worth living" and to live virtuously is the highest good.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

53%

The past couple class sessions of Missions 1, we have been doing a study of the book of Jonah. We were looking at chapters 3 and 4 today. Two things really struck me funny as we were reading chapter 4. One was the place where God asks Jonah, "Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?" And Jonah has the gall to answer: "I do." The vine was a pure act of grace on God's part, but Jonah just assumes ownership and is greatly offended when God takes the vine away. The other thing that made me laugh was the phrase "God provided a worm." What I had never noticed before was what a beautiful object lesson the whole story of the vine and the worm were. The book of Jonah is just filled with an intertwining of the themes of God's sovereignty and His grace. For example, we see God's plan to judge Nineveh, his power over the weather, and his control of the fish's behavior up against his grace in giving Nineveh a chance to repent, giving Jonah a second chance to go to Nineveh, etc. Anyhow, you come down to chapter 4 and you see God act in sovereignty and grace to provide a vine (just to make Jonah comfortable) and a worm (to make him uncomfortable?). Jonah is sitting there fuming about God apparently changing his mind. He's mad that God repented of his threats toward Nineveh, and now he's mad that God repented of his provision of shade for Jonah. You can almost picture the people of Israel reading this book. Chapter 1: "That stupid guy. Don't you know you can't run away from God." Chapter 2: "Ah, this sounds like the Psalms. Now, he's acting a little more like a prophet." Chapter 3: "Um, I'm getting a little uncomfortable. Why isn't God destroying the Assyrians?" Chapter 4: "What a moron. Won't he ever learn that . . . hey . . . what's going on here? This book isn't about Jonah after all, is it? It's a book about me, about my racism, against my hoarding God to myself, about . . . uh oh." And it closes out with that great question: "Should I not be concerned about that great city?" I've seen Jonah; I've been Jonah. God help me!

I preached in chapel today. Our theme for the month is "What on earth am I here for?" which is bad grammar, but Rick Warren used it, so I guess that sanctifies it. Anyhow, there have been a lot of perspectives shared this month, but I decided to focus on the idea that I am here on earth to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Yeah, that's not original to me. Anyhow, it was a sermon about worship, and it was a little different from my usual style, a little more teen-friendly, I hope.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

44%

My dad is in charge of a new missions group at our home church, so he asked me last night for some input on what makes a church a good supporting church. Obviously, prayer support and financial support are our most basic needs. But what can a church do beyond that? I think of the church that does the best job of helping us feel like real partners. They send us their church newsletter. Twice a year, they feature us in a Sunday morning service. Last month, they did a live phone call with us during the service. They also feature our ministry in their newsletter that month. They remember us at birthdays and Christmas. They have a notebook in their church building, containing our newsletters and photos. During the months when we are the focus, they put a box for cards, letters, donations, gifts, etc. Although we've only been to that church once, they feel like a second home. Dad asked me about whether people sending letters was an encouragement or just adding the burden of answering them. I think we always like getting correspondence (even via e-mail). It's good if the person doesn't expect a lengthy personal reply. If they send an e-mail, it's easy to at least jot a few quick lines back.

He also asked about guidelines for work teams. Here were my ideas:
Come for a long time, not 5 days (especially if jet lag will be involved).
Come with the attitude of learners.
Come to serve the local people, not the missionaries.
Come prepared to leave your comfort zone. That means, eat the local food! Get out of the mission house, etc.
Monetary gifts are always appreciated, but the people really want to build a relationship with you. Don't just foster dependency. Get to know the people and then let God direct you as to whether you ought to give something or not.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

38%

I don't teach any classes on Thursdays, so I thought this would be the ideal time to go get my car repaired. I knew it probably wouldn't start, so I went and recruited some students to help push the car out of the driveway. Actually, I recruited one student, who recruited someone else, who recruited four blind guys. Anyhow, they pushed the car out of the driveway and halfway around campus, but I couldn't ever get the engine to catch. So I sent a student in search of jumper cables and texted someone to see if he had any. There were none to be found, but the student returned carrying another battery. We disconnected my battery and then came to the realization that the replacement battery was too big to fit into my vehicle's battery compartment. Finally, I went and got Pastor Alex, who was just leaving to teach a class; he dropped everything, though, and came with me, bringing along a length of electrical wire. With that wire and a couple of vise-grips, he improvised jumper cables and hooked my vehicle up to the battery sitting on the ground next to the car. After a couple of tries, that got me started.

I drove to Carmen, where the mechanics seem to have a rather unorthodox and, I think, unreliable method of testing electrical components. At any rate, they recommended a new battery, and, crossing my fingers and praying that my alternator is still good, I bought one. I had it installed and drove home. Tomorrow morning, we'll find out if that was the problem.

I finished the Powerpoint for my missions class tomorrow, and then headed back to the library for more work on the card catalog. The task is even more dismaying since the students have arrived. They disorganize the books as fast as or faster than I can organize them. I talked to the librarian last night about implementing a new policy. Currently, students are supposed to reshelve their own books. This is NOT working. Hopefully, we are switching to a system where the assistant librarians do all the reshelving. I don't know, though; some of the current reshelving seems to be more malicious, than accidental. The card catalog will be basically useless if we can't get the students to put the books back where they belong.

We had our first chapel service tonight, and it lasted about 2 hours. The faculty was supposed to sing the special song, but we didn't practice in advance at all. They announced what the song was as we were heading up to the platform. I had never even heard the song before, so I peeled off and watched Elijah instead.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Reddest Tape

If you don't want to read my rant about third world bureaucracy, this would be an excellent time to navigate away from this page.

We made a trip to Manila on Monday to pick up our I-Cards. We had perfectly serviceable ACRs (Alien Certificates of Registration) but the Philippine government decided we need an ID card too (although they seem to go back and forth on that). We had been to Manila over a month ago, paid our fees and did all the paperwork. The I-cards were supposed to be finished in two weeks. So, we pull up to immigration on Monday, and I walk in with my little claim stubs.

The guard stops me at the front desk and tells me I can't come in because I'm wearing shorts. It's 90 degrees out. I'm wearing shorts, and I packed a pair of shorts. I go back out to the car and send Tiffany in with the claim stubs. She went to the line; there were 2 people in front of her. At least 30 minutes later, she made it to the front of the line. The lady at the desk said, "Did you pull your papers yet?" Tiff said, "I don't know." The lady left for about 10 minutes. She came back and gave Tiff back all the forms and receipts we had turned in a month ago and sent her to the third floor of the next building.

Tiff waited in a short line there, got to the front and handed them her forms. They said their computer was down, so they couldn't check the status of the forms, but she could just hand them in and they would call her name when they were ready. She sat for a while; after a few minutes, they started calling names. Tiffany could see our pictures on the computer, and then they called her up and told her to turn in the stubs, which the lady in the first building had kept.

So Tiff went back to the first building and waited in line again. The guy in front of her took about 10 minutes. The lady gave her the stubs and Tiff went back to the other building.

Once she had her stubs, her forms were signed by the big boss man and she was sent to another table. The man there told her our papers were approved and we could come back on Friday to pick up our I-cards! Tiff explained we were from the provinces and needed them by Tuesday. He said, "I don't know; I'll check with the chief. Are you a missionary? etc." Finally, we were told to come back at 10:00 on Tuesday for the 11:00 printing of I-cards, just bringing the stub.

10:00 the next morning, we were at immigration. First building, wait in line, lady looks it up in the computer, says we're not approved. Second building, wait in line, sent to another desk, "you're approved; go see Esther." Wander around, looking for Esther. Told to redo everything we already did the day before. They look around for the forms, finally deciding they're locked in somebody's desk who will be there at 2:00.

2:00 we return to immigration. Second building, Esther's desk. They look us up in the computer--ready to print. First building, wait in line for a long time. "They're ready to print. Madam, I'm sorry but our printer is [unintelligible]. We can't print right now." Come back Thursday!

GRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Monday, May 15, 2006

19%

Despite dozens of hours already working on computerizing the school library database, I estimate that I'm only about 19% completed with the task. I set myself back a little today by suggesting to the librarian that we remove from the collection a number of books that I had already catalogued. They were all just portions of the Living Bible, which we already have in our reference section. There were probably more that I could have removed, but that was depressing enough.

The progress is slow, because I not only have to enter the data into the database, but I usually have to make a new spine label for the book, because it either doesn't have one or has one that is incorrect. Furthermore, most of the books aren't in order currently, so I have to shuffle them around as I go along. The library is filthy, too. I think the students cleaned it at the end of the school year, but it started building up dust fast. The librarian came and helped me for a few hours today, and she also did a little cleaning.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

preparation

I think it's always a challenge for teachers to stay motivated during the summer, but I did a decent job today, I think. I was able to get a couple of solid hours of sermon preparation in this morning. I'm preaching at college church this Sunday. It's Mother's Day, of course, so I'm trying to do something along that theme. I'm focusing on Naomi, who is more famous as a mother-in-law than a mother, and about whom very little is explicitly said. So, I'm having to infer things about her culture from Ruth's response to her. This is a bit stretching for me, but I think it's starting to come together. Hopefully, tomorrow I can put a little more meat on the skeleton and polish it up a little.

I'm teaching philosophy this next semester, so I'm reading a real entry-level text to brush up on the basics of the material. The book I'm reading approaches philosophy from a chronological standpoint, so I've read up to the medieval philosophers right now. The text that has been used in that course in the past is arranged topically, so I'm trying to figure out how to integrate the two. I've actually toyed with doing a history of philosophy for half the semester and a more conceptual look during the second half, but I'm not sure I have the time or the skill to make both halves cohesive without being redundant. A lot of my reading done today was done on the move, as I followed Elijah on his wanderings around campus and frequently interrupted by "No. Elijah. No. No. Stop. No." Such talent for cruelty to cats at such a young age!

I think I'm really getting a more crystallized idea of what to do with my Missions 1 course.

Monday, May 08, 2006

vulnerability

This will be a little repetitive of a previous post, but we worked today to distill a list of a few key characteristics of healthy relationships in the Philippines. Here's what we came up with:
1. It is good to greet a person. This is usually done with a handshake, although women may use beso-beso and very close friends may embrace. Asking someone “Where are you going?” or “When did you return?” are just formalities that don’t necessarily require a definite response. However, when someone asks “Kumusta ka?” they are expected to listen to the answer with genuine interest.
2. Generosity is one of the trademarks of a true friend. If someone has the power to help a friend and refuses, that may be considered offensive. Similarly, you can expect that your friend will loan you anything you need.
3. It is appropriate to drop in on a friend unannounced, although it’s okay to call or text ahead. When you arrive, your friend should stop what they are doing and give their attention to you. If they are eating a meal, they should invite you to join them.
4. You shouldn’t isolate yourself.
5. When you are at a friend’s house, you should make yourself at home.
6. You should address even strangers as manong or manang, if they are clearly older than you. It’s okay to use tito and tita with those who have children older than you. You can refer to the very old as tatang or nanang. If in doubt, use the younger term of address.
7. You may offend a friend if you decline an invitation without a valid reason.
8. You may offend a friend by violating their trust.
9. You may offend a friend if you deny them something—if they ask for help and you don’t help them.
10. You may offend a friend if you talk about them behind their back.
11. It is okay to approach someone directly if you have a problem with them, but you should be careful not to hurt their feelings. It is also okay to use a third party, if you don’t feel comfortable approaching the person directly.
12. If there is a sickness or death in someone’s family, a good friend will stay with his friend to comfort him and assist him.
13. When you go on a trip, it is appropriate (and sometimes expected) to bring back pasalubong for your friends, usually food items.

We also did some reading about exposure and concealment of vulnerability. It's hard to really define Philippine culture on that continuum. I think people here generally try not to hurt other's feelings, but in some ways, they can be more blunt than Americans. I thought of a situation where a man came into a meeting and began to present what appeared to be somewhat of an insurance scam. I think the American response would have been to thank the man and dismiss him. The response here was to ask lots of probing questions that revealed that the deal probably wasn't completely reliable. Without specifically demeaning the presenter, they made it clear that they weren't interested in his offer.

Also, Filipinos do seem to be interested in competition at least at some level, and they also seem willing to compete in things where they don't necessarily have a great chance of succeeding. The prime example of this is videoke. I could relate numerous instances of people singing loudly in public despite an apparent lack of singing talent. However, I am curious now. In some societies, students do not take tests if they think they will fail and do not turn in written assignments if they feel that they will do poorly on them. I don't have enough information to say if that's what's happening here, although there certainly are a number of students who fail to complete their requirements.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

More interviews

I did some airline ticket shopping today. Our area director wants me to go to India in July to teach some courses. The idea excites me, but it is 3 weeks of missed classes here and, as far as I can tell, a big chunk of change to get there.

We interviewed two more cultural consultants today about relationship issues in the Philippines. Some answers come back with striking consistency, but on other questions, the answers are all over the board. Sometimes, we are so enculturated in our culture that we have trouble identifying its characteristics. We think there's nothing that would interest a foreigner, because we assume they do it the same as we do. So when we ask, "How do you greet a friend?" we get answers like, "Oh, just the same as you do." That's not very helpful, and it's probably not very accurate. I guess that's why we're trying to get various perspectives.

One question that's pretty important but gets varied answers concerns our status in The Wesleyan Church of the Philippines. Some tell us that we are on a par with the general leaders, which is what almost seems to be the case in actual practice. Others say that we are on the level of the pastors, which is probably what the ideal situation would be.