Finding the Forgotten

Lighthouse in Action ministers to those snared on Thailand's darker side.  Through Biblical teaching and Staff Training, we empower their effort.  (Video used with permission.)

The Right to Believe What is Wrong

The more bizarre the better!  Someone I know and love, by their own profession, is an avowed unbeliever.  No time for God and Scripture, let alone the lifestyle of the straight and narrow.  Instead, preferring the fashionable broad and winding path, to use Jesus’ terms, this person has stubbed their toe and run smack into more than one wall.  You have to admire their tenacity.  They stick with their self-willed course no matter the consequences.

A recent conversation proved enlightening for me.  My esteemed person (Notice the  lengths I go to respectfully preserve their anonymity.) passionately shared their latest insight on life.  Seems this particular theory revolved around a foreign government’s program to silence dissent regarding use of nuclear energy.  I was told that even though people’s health are presently suffering and lives are endangered, no one is allowed to blow the whistle.  Ominous, indeed!

Politely inquiring as to the source of this scandalous information, I was informed it was the late night Radio Show “Coast to Coast AM with George Noory”.  This is the same popular program that regularly features guests propounding the paranormal, as well as callers in the wee hours describing out of body experiences with space aliens, and various government conspiracies du jour.  

I find it fascinating the things people choose to believe.  (At the end of the day, belief or unbelief is a matter of choice.)  In my friend’s case, it seems the exotic captures their interest…for a while.  Intriguing that one finds credibility in the offbeat while dismissing out of hand faith claims that have endured thousands of years.  

Another life-long friend, likewise is an overt skeptic of faith.  Some years ago he boldly announced over lunch that having read The Divinci Code his suspicion of religion had been confirmed.  When I responded that ample scholarly rejoinder exists; he replied firmly, “I don’t want to read a bunch of stuff!”  I laughed, highlighting my old buddy’s intellectual inconsistency: raising objections yet refusing to consider corresponding answers!  How convenient.  A classic case of, “My mind is made up.  Don’t confuse me with the facts!”

Christianity has been dissected more ways than your biology classroom frog.  Skeptics relentlessly seek to disprove, discredit, and dismiss religion.  Still, it endures.  Archeology consistently corroborates biblical accounts.  Literary criticism substantiates the reliability of Scriptural transmission yielding 5,366 manuscripts of evidence.    Contemporary foes had every reason and means to squelch resurrection claims, yet could not.  Philosophical and logical arguments verify the reasonable sensibility of faith claims.  Millions of adherents offer first-hand testimony (sometimes at the cost of their own lives) to personal salvation.  Jesus Christ has been the subject of more scrutiny than any figure in human history.  Yet, He abides.  

In conclusion, we all have a right to believe or not.  I just hope what we believe is right.

Living on a Leash

Try being named after a dog.

Hank, a rather sizable Labrador Retriever, is still a rambunctious pup.  Since my last name is Hankins, I have been casually called “Hank” ever since I was a pup.  Hearing his owners chastise Hank to get down, Hank stop chewing, and most of all, not to ...uh, do-what-dogs-do... becomes awkward.

Walking in a Winter Wonderland in the Blue Ridge mountains amidst falling snow, Hank is living large.  This calamitous canine is convinced he is part Saint Bernard or Siberian Husky frolicking in the Alps.  One problem ensues, Hank repeatedly bites the leash from his owner Jordan. 

Homeward bound on snow-slick road, we halt.  Jordan stands holding one end of the leash, Hank no longer on the other.  He had bitten it off.  His Master proceeds to grab the short length attached to Hank’s neck, a mere snout-length away.  We proceed home, said chewer in tow on a very short leash.

We sometimes feel God is a party-pooper by establishing rules, regulations, and restrictions.  Commandments cramp our style.  I Kings 2:3 echoes a bevy of Scripture admonitions and advice,  “... observe what the LORD your God requires: Walk in obedience to Him, and keep His decrees and commands, His laws and regulations, as written in the Law of Moses.  Do this so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you may go”.  Jesus succinctly summed, “If you love Me, keep my commandments.”  Any part of that we don’t understand?

It is true, God has prescribed limits to our liberty.  We are free to roam within His boundaries.  He does so, not for His benefit, but for ours.  Abiding obediently, we are safe, secure, and free to experience life.  When we resist and insist on severing the leash; God’s love refuses to relinquish.  He will, when necessary, shorten our leash.  Freedom severely limited, fun curtailed, we continue securely on the path home.  

At least, if I learned a significant life lesson that day, it’s not so bad being named after a dog.

Conversion or Coercion...

Darker impulses lurk at the door.  Sorry to be bearer of bad news, but facts are facts.  Every one of us has to be held in check.  Otherwise, left to our own impulses, we run amuck.  Sure as water flows to the sea, so character descends downhill.  Ever seen a child reared without guidance and boundaries?  What starts out cute, quickly annoys as they move beyond being a brat to becoming delinquent.  Potential destination: criminal.  They were allowed to be a law unto themselves.  

How can I write such things?  Because I know me.  I am a descendent of Adam and his race.  Biblically, due to inherited depravity, the diagnosis is gruesome and the prognosis grim.  Left to my own devices, I am wired for chaos and self-destruction.  Nature inescapably follows the Second Law of Thermodynamics.  Which, in a nutshell observes that things left to themselves relentlessly slide toward entropy.  In a word: decay.  Need proof?  How’s your health… as you age?  Like I said,     I know myself.

Now to the salient point of this treatise.  Given our innate bent toward mayhem, people like you and me must be either inwardly constrained or outwardly restrained.  Checked by intrinsic virtue or extrinsic fences.  Illustration: repeated scenes in our nation when order breaks down.  Hoards roam and riot.  When opportunity arises to shatter windows and snatch a wide-screen TV; a motivating factor becomes operative.  Either some form of personal conscience tells you to stop, or you join the chorus of the throngs.   Smash and grab!

Hence, remove God from the home, schools, and public life, and something else must fill the vacuum.  Somehow, order must be maintained.  (Therefore, our society has created an estimated 5,000 Federal Criminal Laws, with between 10,000-300,000 Federal Regulations enforced with criminal penalty.*  Not to mention sundry State and local prohibitions.) People are governed either by internal principles or external parameters.**  More Preachers or Police.  Faith or force.  Take your pick: God or guns.  {Yes, I admit my bias.  I am directly inferring morality from spirituality.}

If you are still reading, and resisting the urge to revolt, let me end on a hopeful note.  Scripture proclaims a superior lifestyle in II Corinthians 5:14-21.  It unabashedly offers transformed identity in Christ.  We affirm the endearing declaration in verse 17, and it’s Divine agency in verse 21.  (Sly attempt to get you to read, believe, and embody them.)  For purposes of this article, I highlight the opening verse 14, For the love of Christ constrains us”.  

Hmmm:  fueled by faith, checked by choice, locked in love.   Meaningful motivation.                
Wall Street Journal
** Repeated citations of Founding Fathers: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, & Benjamin Franklin buttress this thesis.

Soul Safari

Africa ministry: proclamation & much more!

Face to Face

“I’ve just seen Jesus.”  The epic composition, impeccably performed by Larnelle Harris and Sandi Patty, brought unanticipated emotion.  I freely admit.  Tears welled in my eyes, then trickled down my cheeks.  Seated nearby, Brendalyn P. said not a word. 

Deep truth grasped me.  Pondering the undeniable impact of the resurrection of Jesus; believers who were understandably bewildered, disillusioned, and despairing were transformed when they met Jesus face to face.  He was alive!  Scripture relates, that even the Apostle Thomas, a no nonsense guy, resisted and insisted.  Then, with his own eyes, he saw the scars.  He fell on his face and worshipped.

In that pregnant encounter, Jesus responded with poignant application, “Blessed are those who did not see me, and yet believed.”  That— means me.

Here goes.  I have known the Lord for over half a century.  At an old wooden alter, as a little boy I gave my heart to Him.  I have never taken it back.  Oh, occasionally stumbling; His grace prevails.  I have devoted my adult life to serving Him.  His, has been my prime agenda for living.  It has cost me money, energy, and opportunity.  While in no way a martyr; I have endured ridicule, bias, and censure for His name.  I spend and am spent for His cause.  I have placed all, repeat all, my hope squarely on Him.   He is my Savior, He is my Lord.  I love Him, I am not ashamed to say.

— I have never seen Him.  

Does that make me a fool, or faithful? — 

I will see Him.  I have His Word on it.  “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”  (Jn 14:3)  “We know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him just as He is.”  (I Jn 3:2)  “Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face....” (I Cor 13:12)

When for the first time, I gaze upon His face; the One who loved me and gave Himself for me, I too, shall be overwhelmed with gratitude and glory.  The song says it powerfully. 

“All that I’ve done before,
  won’t matter any more.

I’ve just seen Jesus.” 

Praise in Different Ways

Scripture encourages worship in diverse manner.  Utmost, the words of Jesus', "in spirit and truth".

Making an Impact for Christ

Reach of this ministry preaching, teaching, and training in the past year.  Next year, starting in Atlanta, and extending to Africa.

Presents of Presence

What to give to the person who has everything?  Christmas conundrum.  Equally challenging, is what to give to the person who has nothing!  Think about it.

This Holiday Season, males of our species frantically descend upon crowded Shopping Malls, glazed eyes, credit card in hand, desperately seeking an acceptable gift.  They haven’t got a clue as to perfume, jewelry, or designer bags.  Their sole concern: just make her happy.  (And, if truth be told, sadly in some cases, just keep peace.)

The key dynamic in gift-giving is the intent behind the offering.  We all know, and often say such…especially if it is that obnoxious tie wrapped for Dad.  “Well, it’s the thought that counts.”

Frankly, what you give someone does reveal your attitude toward them, and perhaps more so, about yourself!  If you are creative, it is evidenced in your effort.  If you are generous, quality, name brand, or price-tag strategically left on, touts it.  If you are cheap; plain to see.  It says something about them; and clearly, about you.

All this gift-giving madness started with the three Wise Men.  Actually, it commenced with God before them.  John 3:16, Romans 5:8, and I John 4:10 inform that our Creator’s prime motive  was affection.  He loved us enough to send His Son to secure our eternity.  What does His gift say about us?  Undeniably, we are in desperate need of a Savior.  (Recall our original premise: what to give to the person who has nothing.  Answer: a Redeemer.)

What does His gift say about Him?  He thinks enough of us to give at infinite cost, the very best: Himself.  In terms of God’s self-awareness, offering Himself is either extreme hubris, or eternal holiness.  I’m banking on the latter.

The greatest gift at Christmas has been given by our God.  No way to top Presents of Presence.

Myanmar Mission

Training leaders to impact their homeland!

Doing the Right Thing

“All behavior is motivated.”  One of the few statements I recall from countless university professor lectures.

Doing something because it’s the right thing to do, happens more in my life nowadays.  I hope it is a sign of maturing, not just getting older.  Character is revealed when decision-making is based upon principle over preference.  For me, the grace of Jesus Christ overrides my personal biases and tendencies, which find their root in self.  Self has its root in sin.  Christ deals with the problem at its core. 

Because something is the right thing to do, it is rarely convenient; yet truly significant.  Example in years past: visiting my alzheimer’s Father, who forgets I have called the moment I walk out of his room, and soon will not recognize me when I walk in.  —It’s the right thing to do. 

You do the right thing:

1. Not because it’s...

  • The Easy thing to do
  • The Fun thing to do
  • The Popular thing to do
2. But because it is…
  • The Difficult thing to do
  • The Demanding thing to do
  • The Decent thing to do

When you: donate a kidney, pick up rubbish, return extra change at the counter, obey the speed limit, report family abuse, dismiss gossip, change the channel, cheer for Purdue, file accurate tax deductions, own up to a mistake, give up your seat for an elder; you live at the next level.  Simply, “It’s the right thing to do”.

APPLICATION:  You have only so many days left on the planet.  It is your choice to spend them in pursuit of the meaningful or trivial.  The Bible urges:  “Making the most of your days”, “Be not weary in doing good”.  Particularly clear for Christians is Corinthians, “whatever you do, do all for the glory of God”.

“All behavior is motivated”.  No motive better than simply because, “It’s the right thing to do”.

** Supplemental considerations:

  • Who’s definition of “Right” are we going to use?  Personal, Society’s, or God’s?  (i.e.  Internal, External, or Eternal?)
  • People are either inwardly constrained or must be outwardly restrained.  (i.e. Either God or Guns keep us in line.) 
  • Society demonstrably functions better when we behave congruent to our higher nature. (e.g. Crime, Oppression, War if we don’t.)
  • Personal fulfillment increases when we have acted properly, benevolently, even sacrificially. 
  • Mark Twain famously said, “It is never wrong to do the right thing”.

Swimming Securely

Freshly minted from Seminary as a young pastor in Hawaii, in personal conversation I foolishly remarked, “I want to be a big fish in a small sea”.  As life and ministry unfolded, never happened.  Now, decades later, I am in fact, a small fish in a big sea.

Surrounded by azure blue, in Hawaiian waters we relish the Yellow Fin Tuna (Ahi); excellent for sashimi.  The striking Swordfish offers a proud trophy photographed by successful anglers.  The menacing Shark, well, he swims where ever he wishes.   Then, there is the ubiquitous Manini.  This diminutive guy, the size of your hand, featuring tiger stripes and protruding snout, nibbles innocently round the reef of every island.  He pays no mind to larger legendary fish in ocean depths.  He simply does what a Manini is created to do.  Ask any Hawaiian, a trip to the shore is not complete unless shared with Manini.  Truly, a tiny fish in a very big sea.  And, content to be.

Swimming here and there, mostly there, is the nature of itinerant speaking ministry.  I have no illusions: there are bigger fish in the sea, I am not one of them.  That’s God’s business.  Being faithful is my business.  In Romans 12, Paul promotes sober self assessment amidst sovereign spiritual assignment.  In verse 3 he pointedly advises,      “…think with sound judgement, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.”  

There is a lesson to be learned.  I am still grasping it.  More precisely, it is grasping me.  

Be Manini

Old Age; Soft Heart

Pastor Feliciano is second of three generations serving a sizable indigenous church in the remote mountain village of PachalĂ­, Guatemala.  Son Jorge handles most duties, but at about 80 years of age, the elder still has his weathered hand on the wheel here and there.  For sure, he sets the spiritual tone.

In a midweek preaching meeting, nearly everyone in attendance came to the front as an act of commitment to Christ at the close of the sermon.  Time passed.  The Spirit moved.  Hearts melted.  I noticed Pastor Feliciano repeatedly wiping tears from his eyes.

Grasp the significance.  At his stage in life and ministry, he’s seen and done it all.  He could certainly offer sage counsel and practical pointers to pastors (and international evangelists).  Yet distinctly, his heart is still supple in the hands of the Master.  

I hope as you are reading this right now, that you are a Christian Leader.  We all need a reminder that having a soft heart for the things of God is the pre-eminent personal trait, professional qualification, and ministry strategy.  I’m not sure that is something readily taught in Seminary classrooms or mentioned in Church Board meetings.  I know it is rarely a topic of discussion when clergy gather over lunch.

I leave you with the third stanza of the classic hymn, I Love to Tell the Story.  
I love to tell the story, for those who know it best
Seem hungering and thirsting, 
to hear it like the rest.
And when in scenes of glory, 
we sing a new, new song.
’Twill be the old, old story,
that I have loved so long.

You know any seasoned saints like that?  I’m glad to say, I do.

Faith (and some fun) in the Far East

Recent speaking ministry in Japan + casual conversations with eternal possibilities!

Truth Either Offends or Transcends

Religion and politics: taboo topics.  I’m a preacher.  Volitionally I venture in to the former.  The latter, I avoid like the plague ...until now.  Conscience compels me.  

You have heard the pointed saying, “A people get the government they deserve.”.  This time in my own nation, I fear that is true.  This Presidential election of 2016, offers two specious candidates, to put it politely.  Pick your poison.  Our choice lies between a  lunatic kook and a lying crook.

Now, if I just offended you by either of those coarse monikers, then either you are a blindly loyal partisan, or you simply aren’t paying attention.  One candidate engages in repeated sophomoric antics including crude mockery and name calling.  Outrageous  and indefensible comments feature misogyny while bordering bigotry, flavored with healthy doses of vulgarity.  (My mother washed my mouth out with soap for far less.)  The painfully-parsed other, deftly dodges repeated criminal indictment with such sordid history of obfuscation, fabrication and falsification it makes the Kremlin cringe.  Sixty-six percent of American people consider this candidate grievously lacking in integrity (53% don’t trust the other).  And still, they secured the nomination.  What does this say about our culture?  Here’s the truth: truth no longer matters.

A generation or two ago, these shysters would have been thrown out on their ear.  Now both are hailed with a gusty cheer.  Our nation must be smoking what we have just legalized.  Jeremiah 6:15 and 8:12 come to mind with the stern assessment, “My people have forgotten how to blush”.  Have we no shame?  The answer to that would be...”No”.  Let me be crystal clear in my diagnosis:  Abandon our moral foundation, then forfeit ability to distinguish between right and wrong; and just plain stupid.  Example: contemporary bathroom battles raging in this, ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave’.  …But no longer simply the male and female….

Moral abdication is the reason we are in this mess.  Hence, politics is not going to fix it.  (Yes, I will hold my nose, grab an air-sickness bag, and vote.)  The Bible teaches in Daniel and Romans that God sovereignly appoints rulers.  It’s going to take some exegetical elasticity for me to submit to that one.  I’ll try.  

The solution to our situation is spiritual.  I know; there I go with religious talk again. Indeed, unapologetically!   ...You got a better option?...  Our penitent prayer may not correct this election, but perhaps it can save the country…if we make it in tact to the next election.

God’s Word implores, “If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves, and turn from their wicked ways, and seek My face; then I will hear from heaven, I will forgive their sin, and heal their land.”  II Chronicles 7:14.   

That’s correct: the issue is sin.  Personal and national.  Again, Scripture captured it long before we did, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.” (Proverbs 14:34)  Sound relevant?  There is only one remedy for sin.  Repent.  

God help us.  He’s the only one who can.

Stayin' Alive

Do not get sick in a foreign land!  Don’t do it!  ...I did it.  In India, of all places, a dreaded  ear infection.  Amidst a full ministry calendar, following two days of pain, fever, and pointed prayer, it seemed prudent to supplement spiritual efforts with medical endeavor.  (And yes, I believe in supernatural healing.  Yet oft times God cures through human agency in the form of a doctor.  Sort of like when I pray for my truck to start, then take it to a mechanic.)  

My host readily drove me to the nearest “Hospital”.  (Realize, traffic in India can give you a heart attack!)  All sorts of folks assembled in quiet manner.  Somehow I stood out, even as I sat silently.  Medical personnel distinguished by white lab coats coasted about.  A short loiter then I was ushered to an awaiting Physician.  With professional ability and pleasant manner she accurately confirmed my self-diagnosis, inquired other appropriate background information (including elevated blood pressure: perhaps due to stress, or salty Indian diet), and aggressively prescribed a bevy of medications.  

I am prepared.  Brendalyn P.’s employment secures our health insurance.  Wisely, I subscribe to supplemental travel insurance, which would if necessary, evacuate me to adequate medical care, anywhere in the world!  I’ve got this covered.

As my friend paid the bill including pharmaceuticals, I inquired as to total cost.  He was reluctant, desiring to offer fine Indian hospitality.  Time for candor; I insisted, “Look, I’m going to give you money anyway, I always pay all my expenses.  How much?”  

He smiled.  Held a few Rupees in his hand and slowly counted change.  He then informed the cost was 400Rs.  I asked if that was merely for medications or total, including Office visit.  He replied firmly, “Everything!”  Seeking clarity I inquired, “How much in U.S. dollars?”  He calculated, “…About $ 8.00”. 

You read right: 8 bucks. 

You know, with the cost of health care in the U.S., staying alive is killing me!

Empowering future leaders in India

Quick glimpse of recent teaching & more in India...with a smile at the end.

When Mattering Matters

Leftovers for lunch…again.  The phone rang.  I failed to recognize the voice, partly due to a bad connection, mostly due to lack of familiarity.  Ken informed me he was calling from Ohio.  That wasn’t much help.   I still had no idea.  Traveling and speaking in as many locales and languages as do I, I’m fortunate to remember my own name, let alone someone met in passing somewhere in the past.

Ken shared he is a recovering alcoholic and that today marked twenty-nine days of sobriety. (No small feat!)  Attending an AA meeting housed in a church where I had spoken years previously, he saw my posted newsletter on the bulletin board.  He recognized me, having attended services when I was there before.  Since he carried a warm spot in his heart for me and my ministry, he took down my number and for reasons his own, decided to give me a call.

We shared at first, awkward conversation.  No rookie; I was personally and professionally guarded.  I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, for some sort of scam.  None came.  Our dialog warmed as we went along.  We ended our chat with me offering  prayer.  As Ken prepared to hang up, I heard his voice utter surprising words, “Thanks Stan, I love ya.” 

Still I must admit: I don’t know who this is!

It doesn’t matter.  He matters!  A recovering alcoholic matters, first to God, and he matters to me.  And apparently, I matter to him.

Sometimes you matter and don’t know it.

View from the Pew

I’ve always wondered what you’re doing while I’m preaching.  Now, I know.  And, wish I didn’t.

’Tis a rare day that I am not on the podium as a speaker.  Teaching in Thailand, I was free on Sunday, thus joined a couple of my students at their church.  Amidst the diverse assembly beside me sat a young local gal.  We nodded politely as she sat in the empty seat.  Worship commenced.  

Praise resounded replete with skilled band, lights and video.  Sound system amped to the max; we went for it!  Seated (and exhausted, we seniors in the crowd) time to partake the Lord’s Supper.  The side of my eye was distracted by my neighbor —being distracted. 

A contemporary guy, I utilize my iPhone Bible app.  (Putting legalists into a tizzy, as they can no longer judge outward spirituality by noticing who carries their Bible.)  Hence, when during the sermon, my neighbor regularly referenced her device, as did I; little reason for concern.  

However, she was engaged more than normal on her phone.  Unable to resist, I glanced at her screen, and discovered she was scrolling and trolling …Facebook!    She was into it; for the entire service.  I know, because I peeked ... often!  Able to multi-task, she would periodically put her phone down, jot a cryptic note in her booklet (one presumes a spiritual nugget from the sermon), then compulsively resume her Social Media surf session.  Hey, who needs the Word of God when you have the wonderful world of Facebook friends! 

The Bible says in Ecclesiastes “There is a time for everything under the sun”.  This wasn’t it.

Of course, a pertinent question you are asking right now, “What was I doing looking sideways during the sermon?”  It’s hard to pay attention.  Now I know.