Showing posts with label Reflections. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Reflections. Show all posts

Friday, October 3, 2014

Knowing You (All I Once Held Dear)

It has come to this. . .

All I have in material possessions sold, given away, or (a very small amount) in storage.  Gone.  Poof!

Furniture, furnishings, that have reminded me of who I am and whose son I am. . . gone.  Donated, in fact. No one can recognize quality furniture these days, or if they can, they don't care. 

All just memories.  It's as though I conducted a "Living Estate Sale," and indeed I have.  This world couldn't care less about my possessions.  It matters not to them one whit. 

This residence, Pilgrim's Rest, where I first lived and grew up, and spent a lot of my adult years as well. . . now sold.  Escrow officially closed today.  60 years in one family, three generations.  Gone.  Like that. 

In that context, Graham Kendrick's worship song "Knowing You (All I Once Held Dear) has significant meaning to me.  I can say like the Apostle Paul

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith - that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.  (Philippians 3:7-11, ESV, emphasis mine) 

Share his sufferings. . . well, hmm. . . not nearly as much as the Apostle Paul in such a delightful place as our next permanent residence, Cuenca, Ecuador.  But yes. . . becoming like him. . . in his death.  Yes, Lord.  I'm willing.  I'm going following you to a land I never went to before, because this thing pleases you as I become even more obedient to your Word in my personal life, my habits and practices in the financial and health realms.  Knowing you, Jesus. . . knowing you. . . there is no greater thing!

With that perspective, I now give you the wonderful Graham Kendrick and his inspiring song based on the Philippians passage cited above.

If you want to follow along and sing the words as they are being sung, this page from Graham Kendrick has the words for you.  Well crafted, theologically sound lyrics. . . a real treat.  You'll no doubt be touched, as I have been.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Some Observations on the Ecuadorian People

Partly because one of Grace Chapel's missionaries - Stateside for the moment - asked me to, and partly for my - and your benefit, here's a rundown on what I've observed about the Ecuadorian people.

Mexicans are well known for their machismo - macho ways - and have an intense amount of pride.  Ecuadorians too have their pride. . . they just don't make as big a show of it.  My friend Oscar put it this way: "The Ecuadorians usually say that they're pretty good.  They're respectful and humble, and don't say crazy things like 'oh, that was fantastic!' like people in the United States might say.  They're content with 'pretty good.'"  

Ecuadorians are generally honest to a fault. . . we've witnessed that enough to know and appreciate that quality.  That said, behind your back, if they can get away with it, they will steal from you. . . petty theft.  We lost a large thick tan bath towel from the clothesline - a feature of life seen all through Ecuador - at the Hotel Pichincha that way.  I told Carolyn Anne it's a lesson learned. . . better lose a bath towel than some electronic gear we have, like our laptop or camera.  By the way, the new camera we got from Fry's Electronics in Burbank is all set up and working well.  We're taking photos now, and hope to load them into the blog when we get home to California. 

94 per cent of the people are (nominally) Roman Catholic.  When I discuss with a chofer in my taxi or a stroller in Parque Calderon what church they attend, they often shrug it off with "I have God in my heart."  My Spanish is not yet that practiced to discuss further this kind of sensitive and very important issue.  I'll have to get better at it in the very near future.  However, I can give from memory John 14:6 - translated into Spanish, of course!  Here in the El Centro district of Cuenca, there's literally a Roman Catholic Church on every block or two.  We hear the bells ring in the morning at 5:40, 6:00, 6:45, and 7:30 for their prayer times.  Every morning without fail.  Attendance is not great, but they are faithful in the bell ringing sin embargo. . .  nevertheless.

Time is not a big thing with the Ecuadorians.  They are generally on time for meetings and business matters, but when it comes to almuerzo - lunch - all bets are off.  No signs to let you know of closed business generally, and when an employee wants to take a popsicle break, you just have to have patience and wait for them to be done with their break.  This happened with the autobus compania - bus company - representative at Terminal Terrestial - the bus terminal yesterday.  We waited about 20 minutes while she had her break, then got our questions answered.  The Manana syndrome is alive and well in Latin America.  

Latin Americans can be a noisy bunch, and Ecuadorians are no exception.  We're finishing up our longest stay at one address in the very nice custom vacation studio loft condo, and moving on to the very heart of El Centro and Parque Calderon by moving to the Hotel Milan later on today after worship services at Iglesia Verbo.  Here on Calle Honorato Vasquez in the heart of the Antigua district of El Centro, there's restaurants and some bars aplenty just on our street alone, with much more surrounding us.  We often get the sound of either a car alarm or a burglar alarm - same sounds you hear in the USA - going off in the middle of the night.  You can hear the rowdier kind of crowds here at the condo in the street, and the noise continues 'til about 2:00 AM, when the bars thankfully close.  We had someone throw either a bottle or a rock at the entrance door, which is framed in a soothing varnished wood with a one way see through glass which is opaque to outsiders with wrought iron bars to reinforce the glass, and part of it was broken the previous night, about 2:00 AM according to one of us staying here at the condos.  First time we ever witnessed that sort of thing, but not totally unexpected, based on what we already knew of Latin American culture while living in California.     

Ecuadorians don't typically challenge the status quo.  If they have something to say socially, politically, or spiritually, they will graffiti the side of a building to express themselves.  On the side of the New Cathedral by Parque Calderon, atheists scrawled in black paint, "Dios no existen" - God does not exist.  No one covers it up or does graffiti abatement here in Ecuador. . . really different than in the States.  Their real feelings are thus said anonymously. . . without fear of retribution.  Newspapers here don't have writer's bylines except for editorials, which are signed. . . the exact opposite of US practice.  That said, when you as a North American challenge an Ecuadorian on a matter of contention, they back off, say nothing, and offer no defense or resistance to you. . . you have the upper hand. . . but don't rub it in.  I was talking to a pastor at Iglesia Verbo about the dirty little secret that is the orphan crisis in Ecuador, and he visibly cringed at my remark.  We will by the way be visiting one of Verbo's orphanages Tuesday afternoon to see for ourselves these forgotten, forlorn children who evidently need much time with loving adults for camaraderie, affection, and guidance.  Stay tuned for more on this in a future post.  

Carolyn Anne has been complimented by the owners of our favorite Mexican restaurant across the street, Mexico Lindo Querido, as "everybody's mother."  What a compliment on today, Mother's Day!  Her love for their children is evident, and the second youngest, Juliana Violeta, just age 2, will come to our table while we are waiting for the food and play games and visit us.  ?Preciosa, no?  (wide grin) 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Things we miss while in Cuenca and Ecuador

A lot is written by fellow bloggers on what they miss from the United States once living on a permanent basis in Cuenca, and Ecuador for that matter.  Yes, Cuenca may be a retirement paradise on Earth, but it's not Paradise. . . Eden was the one and only paradise Earth ever had.  God said so in Genesis!  Cuenca is not "perfect" from a North American perspective, contrary to all the discussions on the 'Net and media reports out there on Cuenca being some kind of retirement nirvana.  Here's a listing of all the ways one gets less than desired in Cuenca.  As our beloved Pastor Pat Tanner of Grace Chapel in Lancaster has put it, you can "suffer for Jesus" in Cuenca.  Here goes. . .

It's *noisy* in Ecuador, and Cuenca, though with less population than Guayaquil, Ecuador's port city (think New York) and Quito (think Los Angeles) is nonetheless full of noise.  we're at perhaps our noisiest location this trip at the Hotel Milan, which has on its street not one but *two* city bus routes stopping for hordes of passengers at the sidewalk opposite our first floor (second floor in the USA) balcony window.  These buses are old, diesel engine running beasts, and are noisier than a John Deere tractor on a farm. . . especially when the driver hits the accelerator!  The noise doesn't bother me as far as sleeping goes, but Carolyn Anne has had her light sleeper tussles and moments with the invading noise.  She said we would have to change rooms due to it, but this last night seemed to be better for her.  The pedestrian signals chirping to cross the street when the light turns green 24/7 also doesn't help.  Our experience living back home in the Antelope Valley is much more tranquil noisewise. 

Level walking surfaces are another thing hard to come by in Ecuador generally.  No matter where you go in whatever city or town, you have to watch your step.  Entering a building you step up. . . sometimes way up.  Entering a room, you step down typically, but it could be up too.  My depth perception as you may know isn't the best, so I really have to watch it everywhere I go.  Keeps one humble, too.  I've found just one building that highlights the step changes in black striped accenting - a very nice condo building we hope to live at once we return permanently - and frankly wish more buildings would do the same.  Folks in the Antelope Valley, you don't know how good you've got it in this regard.  Disabled access for sidewalks?  Forget it in Cuenca, except for the sidewalks in the central part of El Centro.  And those are at a much steeper angle, causing those walking on the sidewalk perpendicular to the incline to lose balance when walking on that surface.  It would never work in the USA. . . a trial lawyer's dream come true where the lawsuits would come so thick and fast your head would spin!

Food: Ecuadorian food is bland to a fault, and getting anything to shake out of a shaker (like salt and pepper) is a lot harder here for reasons not immediately obvious.  The holes in the shaker look the same. . . the salt looks the same. . . what gives?  Same with parmesan cheese in the shaker.  I guess it's all part of the Ecuadorian way to reduce salt intake and reduce cholesterol. . . (sigh)

Foods I miss: La Victoria Salsa Brava hot sauce (La Costena is here, though and is appreciated as a pinch hitter for my favorite hot sauce), refried beans (Coral has every kind of bean in the bag on an entire aisle *but* this one. . . in the can or in the bag, it's not here in Cuenca), and longhorn or Colby cheese.  Sweet corn on the cob (frozen sweet corn is here, but a much higher price for the gringos here).  Frozen peas and carrots.  Fresh peas here, fresh carrots here. . . make your own.  Quaker chewy granola bars (what we brought from Costco in Lancaster to eat on the plane while traveling here).  Crunchier versions available for a sky high price.  An inexpensive 50 cent to $1 chocolate bar.  Three large Hershey bars - like what Grace chapel gives to new visitors - cost (bundled) over $9 at Corel.  Spices.  Ecuador has them, but they aren't anything like what you would use. . . food from the USA is decidedly spicier.  Make a list and bring your favorites, especially for cookies and holiday mealtimes.  Thomas English muffins.  *Any* English muffins!  I'm grouchy if I don't get my English muffin in the morning. . . Campbell's soup (available at the gringo friendly Supermaxi at a price, however. . . try $2 to $3 a can).  Hormel or Dennison's chili (the local brand is far too bland, with mostly beans and hardly any meat to it).  Albers corn meal - or any corn meal.  Oatmeal.  (It's served at the California Kitchen - a gringo hangout - in Cuenca in El Centro for $2.50 though.)  Pies, apple or otherwise.  Pumpkin is not on the shelf, though this isn't the season for it yet, even back in the USA. 

Big napkins (they're small as the Dickens here).  Paper towels are here, and pinch hit for them, though.     

Stores, by the way, don't do refunds of any kind, even large chain stores.  You bought it. . . you're stuck with it.  All sales are final, including sales of appliances that don't fit the dimensions of your kitchen.  Ouch. . . I saw an ad on Gringo Post where that happened to someone. 

Some things we almost missed:  peanut butter ($7 per regular size jar, Schullo's brand).  Higher price to be sure, but a welcome taste of home.  Paper towels ($1.39 a regular roll).  Double the usual price back in the States.  The friendly, helpful staff at the Mall del Rio Coral helped me to find these, to their great credit - and some help from the Lord in the use of my Spanish. 

Peanut butter, by the way, is not literally translated as such. . . not "butter of peanut" - mantequilla de mani, but is instead known here as Crema de mani, or "cream of peanut," or "peanut cream."  Oh the joys of communicating in Spanish when not completely fluent. . . (grin)  To their credit, Coral's employees that are bilingual in English wear white buttons with black lettering on them stating "I speak English" on them.  First store I've known of here doing that, and shows the Gringo influence, which while quite small at 1 per cent of the population of Cuenca, shows a willingness to be of help to extranjeros, or expats.  There is a strong ongoing need by business and professionals alike here in Cuenca to learn and better one's use of English.  I will most likely be assisting in this need by teaching ESL - English as a Second Language - for income and in a volunteer capacity at Iglesia Verbo Cristiana here in Cuenca, and that will be a great new chapter in what God has in store for me.        

Most of all, we miss you back in the States.  One more week here in Ecuador wrapping things up, and then it will be time to say hello to many of you by phone - at last - or in person.  Thanks to several of you for your emails and Facebook PM's to us and your prayerful support.  We couldn't have gotten this far without you! 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Some Observations while in Cuenca

Time for some bits and pieces about who we've seen, what we've heard, and what we've experienced in our time here in Cuenca. 

Like in the United States, the English speaking expats we meet here out and about are shy about "religion" and associated topics.  Yet they are willing to chat with you about themselves, what they know about Cuenca, and expat life in general.  Many of them are single (never married, widowed, or divorced) men, but there are a number of women in this category too.  There are expat "hotspots" in terms of cafes, restaurants, and other haunts where they often hang out, including what can be called the center of the city, Parque Calderon, which is a beautiful and safe walking and sitting area with plentiful benches throughout the city square park it is.  

We have met some expats in Parque Calderon while on our errands for the day, and it strikes us that they in many ways feel lonely. . . just an observation here.  They know who is new in town, and many times are quite willing to strike up a conversation after the obligatory "hello" in English.  We've exchanged emails with a couple of expats this way, and some useful information in person about condos, apartments, and getting your Cedula from the Immigration office.  Boots on the ground provides better information than sleuthing on the 'Net from hundreds of miles away imho.  The more times you hear something, the more credible the information becomes (unless it's propaganda, of course).  

Another source on the 'Net I've found, a blog called Living and Retiring in Ecuador, states they have found very few expats attending church, much less a Bible believing one.  The few that do that attend Iglesia Verbo, like our very astute lady blogger, often are in the back row for the English translation services provided by headphones.  You can count the number of folks like this - expats that are believers and those who sit on the back row for English translation at Verbo - by the fingers on your hand.  Very astute observation by our blogging lady friend.  I've gotten to meet some of them from the 9:00 AM worship service at Verbo, and they are a tight knit group that typically eats breakfast together in a restaurant afterwards.  One of them, Carissa, is a young American tall blonde woman who is a missionary in Cuenca from her home church in the USA.  She also helps out half the time on the English translation for expats and visiting relatives and friends to understand the Spanish language worship services.  I also met Felix and his wife, who are expats in Cuenca that attend Verbo.  Looks like an unofficial small group in Verbo which we will want to associate with further down the road.  Neat loving folks.    

The bank we're using while here, Banco del Pacifico, is believe it or not another source of friendly exchange and conversation.  The banco opens at 9:00 AM weekdays, and has a line that takes a half hour or so to wait in before you can get to see a teller at a window. I'm pretty much the only extranjero or gringo in line in the mornings(afternoons are with little or no waiting in line), and this latest time I was able to practice my Spanish in good conversation with a married woman who was paying her City of Cuenca Police Department parking citation - you can do that at this bank, according to her.   Parking illegally here costs $40, which using the Ecuadorian Rule of Three's and Four's translates to a USA value of the ticket becoming $120 to $160 smackeroos.  Ouch!  Una boleto expensivo indeed.  No English spoken by her, just Spanish.  I'm doing pretty good on the Spanish. . . thank you Lord.

While I'm discussing Banco del Pacifico, I know from a prior English language conversation while in line there with a young Ecuadorian national named John from a small town near the Peruvian border that there are other bancos one may use for money exchanges and financial withdrawals from your USA based financial institution.  Still haven't found out which ones as yet. . . good to know.  

Our host at our vacation condo, Stuart White, is quite the genial, resourceful and adaptable host.  We have hit it off with him very well, for which we are
thankful.  Stuart relates that Google translate offers the best Spanish to English - and vice versa - translation service on the 'Net, and is written in a way a native speaker would talk.  Other translations out there are many times mechanical and not what real native speakers would say.  Worth knowing and using.  I've been using the Merriam - Webster dictionary site for many weeks now, and will have to relearn that habit to take advantage of something better.  Thanks, Stuart! 

He has also blessed us with a permanent key to the courtyard, which includes use of the patio - and table and chairs, and bathrooms and I suppose laundry room.  When we ever get tired of walking around El Centro once we return here to live, we are allowed use of the courtyard for free to have a respite and also interact with the residents present.  Great offer which we are thankful to have taken. . . we will therefore keep the outside door key to this complex
upon the completion of our stay here, and will be staying at the Hotel Milan near Parque Calderon to finish out our time in Cuenca this visit.  Hotel Milan has no elevator, but has a stunning view of Cuenca from its dining room on the fifth floor, penthouse suite style, where they offer free breakfast to its guests.  Will be doing some more climbing, walking, and such once again as always.  

Which leads me to say. . . I've now gotten to the fourth belt buckle hole in my belt for my slacks in this visit to Cuenca.  About a belt buckle hole smaller each week of staying here and walking about 3 kilometers a day on average.  Carolyn Anne says I look a lot better, and she does too, as she has lost some weight as well.  Another advantage of Cuenca. . . and by not having a car and living like the average Ecuadorian, helping our automobile transportation expenses go way down.  A double win!

Speaking of cars and such. . . some interesting vehicles on the road here.  No Chrysler products here, but lots of Chevrolets and Fords.  No Chevy Novas of course . . . "no va" means "no go" in Spanish. . . who would buy a car like that? - but lots of Chevrolet Forzas/Suzuki Swifts which in the USA is more commonly known as the Geo Metro.  *ONE* Mercedes Benz sedan seen, but lots of Mercedes Benz city buses.  The police here uses Hyundai buses for special unit observation detail community policing.  There are Volkswagen buses that hold around 25 to 30 people, too, nicely equipped inside.  Fiat camionetas, or pickup trucks with a factory equipped tall roof camper enclosed cargo area for commercial deliveries.  SEAT coupes from Spain. . . and lots of Toyotas, Nissans, and Kias here too.  Hondas are motorcycles here. . . no cars like in the USA, except two very used circa 1979 Honda Civics we've seen.  No hybrid cars or electric vehicles either. . . no one here except for the expats knows what a Toyota Prius is.                     

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Abraham - the Archtype of a Wandering Pilgrim

As you know by now, I have titled my weblog Wandering Pilgrim's Progress for a reason.  This present plane of existence - as Rich Mullins so aptly called "stuff of Earth" - is only but a vapor, and then it is gone.  Eternity is a very very very long time, and that's what the Believer has to look forward to.  Yet he (or she) is still here on this earth, and what we do on Earth is of importance in how one lives life in the sight of God and man, and how one may cooperate with the Holy Spirit in producing Fruit that will last for all Eternity regarding those rescued from sin and perdicion - perdition or Hell.  Important stuff of Earth, indeed. 

How to live on this Earth is where life gets interesting.  Listening to his voice, seeking the Master in the morning, praying without ceasing, and listening to His response is what we are to do.  He builds His body and supplies for it in various ways.  Not all believers are to do the exact same thing in the exact same place.  Sin embargo - nevertheless - we are to do His leading.  Listening and following is key. 

I am reminded of that Old Testament - and New Testament - character, Abraham once again at this point in the Journey.  Here's some verses from Hebrews worthy of reflection and meditation. 

*    *     *
By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.  (11:8)
By faith he sojourned in the land of promise as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise.  (11:9)
For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.  (11:10)
Through faith also Sarah herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.  (11:11)
Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the seashore innumerable.  (11:12)
These all died in faith, not having receive the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.  (11:13)
For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.  (11:14)
And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned.  (11:15)
But now they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one; wherefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God; for he hath prepared for them a city. (11:16)
***     ***     ***
Abraham sought a better country - a heavenly one.  In the process, he had to leave Ur of the Chaldeans to go to a better country here on Earth. . . one where he could see the promises from a distance.  I too seek, along with my Christiana - Carolyn Anne - that better country.  Being on that geographical journey away from all we have ever known and experienced sharpens the soul's connections to the things of Heaven and Eternity.  Depending on God for everything, for we know not where we go, even when we try to make plans.  We are learning to ask the Lord to direct our steps, to where He wants us to go and in what manner. 
I'll close for now with one great story to illustrate.  Yesterday we were looking for a Dentista - a Dentist - for Carolyn Anne regarding some teeth cleaning.  She was quoted $378 back home for this service, and we were quoted just $25 for the same thing here in Cuenca.  !!!  At first we waited for a half hour or so for the dentist to arrive.  By 10:00 AM, he had not, so we walked to a location where we had seen a dentist office at the Spanish speaking church we were at last Sunday.  That location had no Dentista sign on it anymore, and the office was closed.  So we made it back to our first dental office downtown that we saw.  He was open, and glad to see us!  No appointment necessary for a consultation, either. . . and with my translating abilities - thank you, God for them - we communicated the need for deep cleaning of the teeth plus the need for a prescription for antibiotics due to her knee replacement surgery.  The dentist, Sr. Oswaldo Maldonado, engaged us in some more conversation, and it turned out he has a brother in Thousand Oaks, California that he would love to see more, but cannot due to financial and work demands.  He was impressed with my Spanish also, and thought I had lived in Cuenca for some time.  Not the case, of course. 
We couldn't have done any of this without God guiding us each moment to just the right person and place for each concern we may have.  Yea, God!  Helping us along the Pilgrim way.  Selah.   

Friday, May 2, 2014

Some Folks We've Met in Cuenca

We've now been in here in Cuenca, Ecuador for over two weeks.  Time to talk about some people we've met that you'd never ever meet back in the States back home. 

We're in a vacation condo that gets American tourists, but also those from other countries, too, including Latin America and Australia.  The owner, Stuart White, is a lovely fellow who gets along with all kinds of people in the midst of running his vacation rentals here, and I've since found out has a following from those who have been renting from him in the past.  You can learn a lot by listening to others in the courtyard patio area between our second story loft condo and the door to the street, Honorato Vasquez. 

One of these is an Aussie retired couple from Down Under (Sydney suburbs and Adelaide suburbs) who have their Cedulas, or Resident Visas, now.  They received theirs in February after living here on the up to 180 day Visa since late November 2013.  Her approach on getting  their Cedulas was to go to the Immigration office pretty much every day, and to keep asking questions 'til everything got done.  They decided to use the $25,000 CD Visa route, where you state you have that much money to come to Ecuador, rather than the pensionado route, which we will be taking (stating you get a regular pension from in our case Social Security).  One drawback to their getting their Cedulas was they had to go to Miami, Florida in the US to get a notarized or otherwise apostilled document stating that this much money was in the account.  An extra expense in terms of airline tickets purchased for sure, but they ended up getting their Cedulas in the end!  Their take is that the clerks in that office - who speak English pretty well, though with an accent in some cases - can be like DMV clerks in California.  You need to smile, not ask too many questions, and let them have rule over what they do.  It is, after all, their country which we voluntarily came to.  Good point, that.  Believe it or not they - who still speak very little Spanish - are the only Australian expats they know of.  Brave pioneering souls indeed!  Spanish is virtually unheard of and not taught in the Land of Oz, so I'm giving them great credit for choosing to come to Ecuador to live out their retirement years. 

I've since learned from a rather unique guy, Oscar, best friend to the owner - Eduardo - of the authentic Mexican restaurant across the street, that only recently has the Ecuadorian government in Quito, the capital, let some limited autonomy take place into the running of the Immigration office in Cuenca.  They can now make some of their own decisions about circumstances that come their way, where before they were bound by Quito's way of doing things by the book.  The Cuenca Immigration office also gets very busy - apparently moreso than even Quito according to Oscar - and has been beleaguered by quite a few extranjeros - gringos - seeking assistance with getting their Cedulas or otherwise extending their visas.  It used to be that there was a line of people outside the office, with no seating available or planning to allow the applicant to get an appointment later in the day.  Nowadays the Immigration office in Cuenca has 37 plastic chairs in rows for waiting, and appointments are set by the clerks so there is a more calm, orderly operation to the place. 

Oh. . . why Oscar is so unique. . . he is born and raised in Cuenca, but because his dad is an American
citizen, he also spent 17 (nonconsecutive) years in northern New Jersey, within Manhattan commuting distance.  When he came to the US, he knew not one word of English.  Within one month of English language immersion he was speaking conversational English.  Today he is fluent in both Spanish and English.  You'd think a guy like that would be involved in trade or the diplomatic realm of an Embassy, but Oscar has a real love of the arts, especially music.  He is in a band that plays heavier style rock and roll.  We did an off the cuff a capella rendition of Jim Morrison of the Doors' "Light My Fire," and he truly enjoyed my eidetic memory of the lyrics and the tenor voice God has also blessed me with.  Yes, there's karaoke bars here in Cuenca for that sort of thing, too!  More about Oscar in a future post. 

Another is a Cuban citizen we met at the Immigration office.  Not sure for how long she and her daughter are here in Ecuador for, but the fact we found out she was from Cuba was a first for us.  I chatted in Spanish with her for a bit - thank you, God for this ability - and also did a John F. Kennedy voice impression that she really enjoyed.  Cubans are people too, and Jesus died and rose for them just like anyone else we know.  Talking to Oscar about this Cuban lady Carmen, he believes her to be a political refugee seeking political asylum here in Ecuador.  He says that's the only reason why Cubans come here to live permanently. 

We also met while on tour a very nice young lady who lives in Guayaquil, about four to five hours driving distance from Cuenca near the Pacific coast.  Andrea, along with her fiancĂ©e, "George," work in the IT tech industry in Ecuador - she's in marketing - and her family was on the tour bus with us on a tour of Cuenca ($5 and very much recommended. . . be sure to take the top deck of the open roof double decker bus!).  Neat and close, loving Roman Catholic family.  her English was very good, and she wants more practice with it.  We exchanged emails and have stayed in touch especially because of an uncle that has really been suffering from stomach cancer.  According to Andrea, he is an Evangelical believer in Christ, married and at the end of his life with much pain from the Cancer. . . to the point of asking the Lord to spare him the pain and take him home to be with Jesus.  We prayed for him on the bus that Saturday before Easter, and she really appreciated the prayer.  The Ecuadorian people are so open to prayer and thoughtful acts of love.  In this way the Gospel and salvation for the people here may go forward.  So very encouraging to see.

I discussed Guayaquil with Oscar a bit, and he asked me if I knew the hour the locals there got off the streets due to crime, etc.  I guessed 8:00 PM or so.  Oscar said it was earlier. . . 6:00 PM daily.  My research was right. . . Guayaquil is a more unsafe city overall than any other large city in Ecuador.  If you do go out onto the streets there, it's wise to do so with a local who knows the lay of the land and will keep you safe that way. 

Taxi drivers: generally very good, but there are those who are not as helpful as others.  One spoke perfect English, and as it turned out had spent a lot of time in Worcester, Massachusetts.  Really excellent driver who knew his streets and language.  One spoke only Spanish, but really knew his streets in a time saving fashion and made excellent conversation throughout..  Good thing my Spanish is up to par.  One tried to help us to go to the correct Immigration office, but dropped us off at what proved to be the wrong one.   Great effort, but lack of knowledge about what would be helpful to us as Cedula seekers.  There went $2 extra bucks for taxi expense. . . (sigh) One or two have told us they didn't know where we wanted to go regarding some rather well known places in Cuenca. . . Mall del Rio south of El Centro and Hotel Oro Verde west of El Centro, which is a class act where a night's stay for two is $158 (rack rate).  We saw a really nice third floor 2 bedroom 2 bath condo near there renting for $370 plus $72 condo association fee, utilities not included.  Just checking things out. . . not signing any papers yet.  Too early for that just yet.  Interesting how every cab driver seems to know where Iglesia Verbo is. . . it happens to be on two major cross streets, so it's rather easy to find if you drive here as a local.  They seem to have an excellent reputation all around Cuenca. . . no bad reports about the church at all.  Heartening to hear.  We need to get to know those folks more. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Life Together. . . Bonhoeffer Style

As I've been saying in a few posts now, I'm reading the most excellent book Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas (Thomas Nelson, 2010) which has made the New York Times Bestseller list.  Previously, I've given quotations from the book.  Now I'd like to reflect on the nature of how Bonhoeffer lived, and why the way he lived was and is attractive, moreso to those who choose to follow Jesus Christ. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer grew up with some advantages.  He had a father - and what a father! - and a mother - with familial lineage to some of Germany's past and present theologians and learned men - and his siblings.  His extended family of aunts and uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins simply added to the pastel of relationships Bonhoeffer enjoyed and benefited from. 

His father, Karl Bonhoeffer, had a way of conducting family business.  He was a believer in gathering the family around the table at mealtimes for discussion.  From there, discussions about anything and everything would ensue.  But the structure had the indelible imprint of Bonhoeffer's father, for his way of conducting a conversation around the table was this:

"Karl Bonhoeffer taught his children to speak only when they had something to say.  He did not tolerate sloppiness of expression any more than he tolerated self-pity or selfishness or boastful pride.  His children loved and respected him in a way that made them eager to gain his approval; he hardly had to say anything to communicate his feelings on a subject.  Often a cocked eyebrow was all it took."  (Metaxas, Page 15)

His children were taught to be in firm control of their emotions, according to Metaxas.  While a certain part of this was cultural and familial practice, some of it is not, imho.  The drive from Karl Bonhoeffer to his children was to know what you believe and what you think before you say it. . . so as to not be embarrassed when others find fault in your reasoning and logic.  Fair enough, and actually, quite a gift . The art of speaking and debating around a table at mealtime - and learning how to speak - is quite the lost art in the current culture. 

Structure, whether it be from the direction of conversation conducted by father Karl, or the ministrations of activities and learning from mother Paula, was a given that gave root and order. . . and a way to explore the world and find meaning in it. 

From this foundation, Bonhoeffer was allowed to bloom in his own time.  Bloom he did!

He would invite his students to his parent's house, where his father would engage, with his son, Bonhoeffer's young charges in discussion and lively debate.  Of course there was food to eat, the centerpiece of any good conversation.  Once established in a cabin in the woods, he would invite his students to come visit him there, away from Berlin and the big city, to talk and reflect.  At one point, he told his landlady to allow some hooligan type students from the government run and funded state school (similar to a public high school in a way in the United States) to come in to his quarters.  She complied, but wondered in amazement at the amount of trust he gave such young, undisciplined, potentially troublesome youth.  And he would feed them there.  His kitchen and icebox (or refrigerator, not sure without further research) weren't off limits to their hungry appetites.  Such a draw, eh?  (wink)

Now, I've got to confess. . . as a public school educator, if I allowed my students, once outside back in society, to do that, my wife for one would wonder if I had gone nuts or if I was losing it.  That kind of act of hospitality is truly a mark of a believing follower of Christ.  And that he did, but not from his childhood.  The moment of trusting Jesus Christ to save him from his sins took place when Bonhoeffer was a young man, while still learning and preparing for his life's work.  And he would revisit his faith and beliefs from time to time, deepening his relationship with Jesus and with those who are of the ekklesia - the called out ones of God - who knew and walked with Jesus.  This is not the same group of people known in that day as the government state supported Lutheran Church (to be German was to be Lutheran).  Not at all!  It was the voluntary group of people who confessed Christ as Lord. 

Other ways of showing people care were visiting the sick in the hospital, showing up at home after class to inquire as to the health of a student (and to give him classwork and/or tutoring), and visiting relatives regularly and often.  Letter writing, the thing back then instead of texting or emailing, was de rigueur for Bonheoffer and his family.  In this way, through letter writing and visits, he got to know a good deal of his extended family in person in his abbreviated days on this earth. 

These kind of actions are familiar to me.  They were not always demonstrated or instilled from my childhood, but as young believer in Jesus Christ, I saw them demonstrated over the years in his people, the church.  I particularly remember my Young Adult Pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Colorado Springs, M. Craig Barnes, delivering his message - actually sermon quality stuff - to our assembled class in the Cathedral Room in Hansen Hall, then ending it with this invitation: "I invite you all to come - well, not all you, but as many as Ann and I can fit into our living room - to our house.  I'm going to leave the address and directions on the board so you may copy them down.  Phone number is on the board should you get lost. . . there's a hill or two out east on our street for those who don't get out that way much.  Hope to see many of you there tonight where we'll continue our conversation. . . this time by you asking the questions, instead of me posing them for you."  Golden words by a gifted pastor, then as now.  Who could resist such an invitation to come and spend time in great conversation. . . and ice cream to boot?  I learned much from my time spent with Craig at his house.

Ice cream. . . makes me think of another gifted pastor, Todd Dubord, and his wife Tracy.  Back in the days when he served as Pastoral Assistant at First Presbyterian Church of Palmdale, Todd would invite the church to come out to a local restaurant for "Pie a la mode," as he termed it.  This was in reality his "dry run" for his sermons he gave on Sunday mornings at the church. . . but not everyone caught on to that.  Todd would pose the provocative question for the day, and we would discuss and debate the thing. . . sometimes for hours.  I never stayed past Midnight, though, if I recall correctly.  Fun times, and a great time to get to know others who were passionate and willing servants of Jesus. 

Life together. . . Eating together, conversing together, doing tasks together, helping one another together. . . this is how Bonhoeffer realized how Christians should live - in community.  To learn from one another. . . together.  Of course, one of Bonhoeffer's written works is titled Life Together.  This isn't a review of that book, however. . . but nonetheless you get a flavor of where he was coming from in this reflection here from Metaxas' excellent biography of the man. 

My adult Sunday School class at Grace Chapel had in attendance this past Sunday two young missionaries to the Middle East.  I asked the question: "So how do these folks who know the Muslim faith quite well hear you out. . . how do you reach them and communicate with them the Good News of Jesus Christ?"  Words to that effect.  The answer is disarming: "I simply say God's Word to them from the Bible.  The Holy Spirit will illumine their hearts and help them to turn to Jesus Christ, if they will but let him."  See!  Our battle is not against flesh and blood. . . for these Muslim folks are just the same spiritually speaking as anyone else in the world who is without Christ. . . lost and in spiritual darkness. 

This is what Bonhoeffer eventually realized.  Without God's Word, we are all lost and in spiritual darkness, being apart from Christ and his blessings of Heaven.  So, as I always strive to do, I'll leave you with an applicable Bible passage that speaks to the topic at hand.  From 1 Corinthians 6 (New Living Translation):

3 We live in such a way that no one will stumble because of us, and no one will find fault with our ministry. 4 In everything we do, we show that we are true ministers of God. We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind. 5 We have been beaten, been put in prison, faced angry mobs, worked to exhaustion, endured sleepless nights, and gone without food. 6 We prove ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, by the Holy Spirit within us,[c] and by our sincere love. 7 We faithfully preach the truth. God’s power is working in us. We use the weapons of righteousness in the right hand for attack and the left hand for defense. 8 We serve God whether people honor us or despise us, whether they slander us or praise us. We are honest, but they call us impostors. 9 We are ignored, even though we are well known. We live close to death, but we are still alive. We have been beaten, but we have not been killed. 10 Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything.

11 Oh, dear Corinthian friends! We have spoken honestly with you, and our hearts are open to you. 12 There is no lack of love on our part, but you have withheld your love from us. 13 I am asking you to respond as if you were my own children. Open your hearts to us!

Open our hearts to us!  The call the Apostle Paul had for the Corinthian church, and the call Dietrich Bonhoeffer had for the students and community he served.  Don't withold. . . don't keep back. . . but open wide your heart, not only to us, but to Jesus Christ, the Living One, the Firstborn of the Dead, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  What a charge to keep this is. . . and may God help me to do it day by day, in his power, not my own.  


Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Quotable Bonhoeffer (and Metaxas)

As I've mentioned in a previous post, I am reading Eric Metaxas' excellent book Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (2010 by Thomas Nelson Publishers) which made it onto the New York Times Bestseller list in 2011.  I've only made it through the first nine chapters so far (there are 31 chapters in all), but I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the book.  The first few chapters establish time, place, and circumstances of his early life.  Once past that, the story picks up and becomes engrossing.  One to reflect upon and not read quickly. . . and one to use a highlighter and/or pen to mark important passages with.  I've done so. 

Bonhoeffer, to those who don't know, was a German pastor in pre-Hitler and pre-World War II Germany, as well as during the war.  He could have established residency in the United States in the 1930's, but declined to do so.  Instead, he followed the call of God to speak God's truth to the secular power of the age. . . Adolph Hitler and the Third Reich itself.  Bonhoeffer actually participated in a failed plot to assasinate Hitler just before Bonhoeffer himself died in a German war camp just prior to World War II ending.  Exciting times, and an eventful man with God's leading.  May we be the same in our generation!  With that background given, here's some worthwhile quotes.  All are from Dietrich Bonhoeffer unless otherwise indicated.

*  *  *

Christianity preaches the infinite worth of that which is seemingly worthless and the infinite worthlessness of that which is seemingly so valued.  (Page 85)

A summary from Metaxas: "In an attempt to be more sophisticated than the fundamentalists, whom they (theological liberals) hated, they had jettisoned serious scholarship altogether.  They seemed to know what the answer was supposed to be and weren't much concerned with how to get there.  They knew only that whatever answer the Fundamentalists came up with must be wrong.  For Bonhoeffer, this was scandalous."  (Page 103)

The sermon has been reduced to parenthetical church remarks about newspaper events. (Page 106)

.  .  . 

In New York they preach about virtually everything: only one thing is not addressed, or is addressed so rarely that I have as yet been unable to hear it, namely the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Cross, sin and forgiveness, death and life.  (Page 106)

So what stands in the place of the Christian message?  An ethical and social idealism born by a faith in progress. . .

The (liberal) church (is) as a social corporation. . . (Page 107)

From Metaxas: "Bonhoeffer quickly grew weary of the sermons in places like (theologically liberal) Riverside (Church, New York City), so when Fisher invited him to a service at Abyssynian (Baptist Church, New York City), he was thrilled to go along.  There, in the socially downtrodden African American community, Bonhoeffer would finally hear the gospel preached and see its power manifested.  The preacher at Abyssinian was a powerful figure named Dr. Adam Clayton Powell Sr."  (Pages 107-8)

Again, from Metaxas: "By the mid-1930's, Abyssinian boasted fourteen thousand members and was arguably the largest Protestant church of any kind in the whole United States.  When Bonhoeffer saw it all, he was staggered."  (Page 108)

Metaxas again: ". . . the only real piety and power that he had seen in the American church seemed to be in the churches where there were a present reality and a past history of suffering."  (Page 110)

I still believe that the spiritual songs of the southern negroes represent some of the greatest artistic achievements in America.  (Page 114)  I'll add this note: Bonhoeffer was so struck with the power and influence of the negro spirituals he listened to that he took these recordings with him back to Germany, to allow his students and others to listen to them as he first did so.  They were some of his most treasured possessions, according to Metaxas.

From Metaxas: "He seemed to want to warn everyone to wake up and to stop playing church."  (Page 122)

When I took leave of my black friend, he said to me: 'Make our sufferings known to Germany, tell them what is happening to us, and show them what we are like.'  I wanted to fulfill this obligation tonight.  (Page 128)

From Metaxas: (from one of Bonhoeffer's students) "Among the public, there spread the expectation that the salvation of the German people would now come from Hitler.  But in the lectures we were told that salvation comes only from Jesus Christ."  (Page 128) 

If you want to be pastors, then you must sing Christmas carols.  (Page 129)

From Metaxas: "He loved.  And by being with his disciples, he showed them what life was supposed to look like, what God had intended it to look like."  (Page 129)

From Metaxas, again: "Bonhoeffer aimed to model the Christian life with his students.  This led him to the idea that, to be a Christian, one must live with Christians."  (Page 130)

Leaders or officers who set themselves up as gods mock God and the individual who stands alone before him, and must perish.  (Page 142)

From Metaxas: "The words of the decree (Reichstag Fire Edict), produced and signed into effect before anyone had had time to think carefully about it, made possible most of the horrors ahead, including the concentration camps."  (Page 149)  Yup. . . there went the German people's individual liberties and civil rights, just like that!

All of this reminds me of the famous quote by philosopher George Santayana: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." 
"Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall,"  the Apostle Paul advised in another context in 1 Corinthians 10:12, but one connected to the issue at hand: the allowance of evil and idolatry in one's life and in the culture at large.

I hate evil, because God does.  It's real.  C'mon. . . you mean to tell me that the Aurora, Colorado Batman movie theater killer was a good guy?  He was and is mentally troubled, for starters.  Or how about the Iranians rattling their sabers at Israel?  Is that good?  No!  Or how about what happened to Kelly Thomas, the homeless man who was beaten and killed at the hands of the Fullerton, California police department?  Is that good?  Look at all the demonstrations that event caused.  No!  How about the inclination of my heart to not be with God's people, the ekklesia, the called out ones of God, and share my life transparently in front of God and man as I do Sunday by Sunday?  Is that good?  No! 

See, evil is everywhere in every person, because "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God," Paul wrote in Romans 3:23.  "All our righteousness is as filthy rags," the prophet Jeremiah wrote (Jeremiah 64:6).  This is why Jesus came.  To allow us to exchange our filthy rags for a white robe, where we are judged "not guilty" by God the Father, because he sees "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27).  "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow," Isaiah the prophet declared (Isaiah 1:8) 

This is the Great Exchange. . . one Bonhoeffer had, and I've had as well.  It's the best exchange you'll ever have in your life, to rid yourself of all your guilt and shame you have before God the Father and let Jesus bear the burden and the punishment of your sin. . . a subsitutionary sacrifice. . . which is one main reason why he is worshiped as God the Son, part of the Trinity.

Questions about the above?  Please do leave a comment below.  I do check regularly for them, and I'd be honored to help folks deal with this issue in a gentle, loving, compassionate way.  I know.  I've been in that position.  


Saturday, August 4, 2012

Encountering Disagreement

Now comes the time in this Wandering Pilgrim's journey where he encounters disagreement and discord from others.  The names aren't the important thing, and as a courtesy, I'm leaving the names out of this essay, remembering well the saying from my Al-Anon days of "principles above personalities." 

As you may know by now, my journal - my weblog here on the 'Net - is called Wandering Pilgrim's Progress. That's for a reason: I identify well with John Bunyan (b. 1628, d. 1688), who was jailed in 17th Century England due to his beliefs concerning the Christian Faith.  He endured much more persecution than I ever have as yet, and his classic Pilgrim's Progress (found under "Links for the Journey" to the right of this page) originally published in two parts in 1678 and 1684 retells his spiritual journey as he wrote it in his prison cell. 

Bunyan used a lot of imagery in his writing, since his work was allegorical.  Christian, the protaganist in the story, leaves the City of Destruction and journeys towards the Celestial City, the New Jerusalem.  On the way, he encounters several different characters, some good, others not so good.  He also travels along to new places.  Here in this part of the journey in Bunyan's classic work Christian is found in what is termed Vanity Fair, having to do with the fluff and surface elements of this present world that don't translate - aren't found - in Heaven.  So Vanity Fair is a distraction from his seeking the Celestial City, as well as a return to whence he came: Vanity Fair is actually the City of Destruction in a new light, with spiritual growth gained by Christian to the point he no longer sees things as he once did at the start of his journey.  No, he sees his old town with new eyes, and so it is termed Vanity Fair.  

What happens to Christian and Faithful, his friendly sidekick (or myself, in this case) when they travel to Vanity Fair?  I found a great commentary that tells the story.  It's below the break.

*   *   *  

(1) They are treated as objects of sport.

As non-participants, both their unusual clothing and uncommon speech are mocked.  Following his arrest, Bunyan was derided as a tinker, a biblical literalist, a pestilent fellow, as one ignorant of Greek, as one being possessed by the Devil.

(2) They respond with blessing and good words.

With the Spirit of Christ resting on them, they exchange good for evil, blessing for cursing, patience for hysteria, kindness for malice (Matt. 5:44; Romans 12:20-21; 1 Cor. 4:12; 1 Peter 2:21-23). 

(3) They draw a sympathetic following.

Through the agency of discriminating grace, some observers prove to be less predjudiced; consequently, they oppose the brutality of the baser sort.  Jesus Christ encountered this same timid support which, when put to the test, did not amount to much (John 7:12-13).

(4) They promote violent disagreement.

While Christian and Faithful remain calm and sober as objects of blatant injustice, yet their righteous testimony stimulates bitter division between the two emerging factions.  Jesus Christ is the universal divider of men (John 7:43; 9:16; 10:19; Acts 17:4-5, 32-34: 28:24).   The two factions are:

(a) the moderate sympathizers .

     Like Pilate (Luke 23:4), they have a sense of justice that is able to discern injustice.  They know of thieves and pickpockets at the Fair who are far more worthy of this kind of condemnation.  However, like Pilate (Luke 23:23-25), they lack moral courage.   

(b) the militant antagonists.

Like the chief priests (Luke 23:10, 18), they are willfully blind to the evident godliness and innocence of the two pilgrims.  Their resulting fury knows no bounds; they even charge their neighbors with complicity; they physically abuse them so that worldly gaiety gives way to worldly savagery.  

*   *   *

The above is but a small excerpt of the following link, which is an excellent commentary on John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress.  Read the whole chapter 21 Vanity Fair commentary at 
In fact, the information and resources at are wonderful and edifying.  I encourage my readers to partake of the knowledge and wisdom available there.

The excerpt above is from Page 335. 

This Wandering Pilgrim's update of the above goes like this:

(1) They are disrespected and mocked.

As aliens and strangers to the world, yet in and not of the world, Christian and Faithful are told how to speak - in politically correct terms - and derided as not part of the cultural or geographic elite.  Worse than that, they are told their beliefs and speech are wrong and reprehensible.  Power through written expression is exerted and grasped for. 

(2) They respond through loving God and loving people. 

Knowing how depraved the heart of mankind is, as Jesus did, and aware of their own sinful state before experiencing new life in Jesus Christ and becoming a Follower of The Way, They know they first must pray for the souls of those persecuting them.  Jesus said so himself (Matt. 5:44).  Beyond that, they reach out and let them know there was no personal offense intended.  If one is offended, it is because of the Cross of Christ, not any human individual.  They remember the time spent together in restaurants, hotels, museums, tourist areas, and the like, knowing generous practical hospitality is one of the marks of a growing disciple of Jesus.  Distance separating them, all one may do presently is to generate some discussion items on the topic at hand in the hopes of the true light penetrating the darkness, and hearts might become soft in wanting to know more about what it means to be a Follower of The Way. . . and not necessarily choosing  to become a Follower right then and there, but to understand what that perspective is like and what it entails as a legitimate worldview.  All of this is done as Peter said, with gentleness and with respect (1 Peter 3:15). 

(3) They are talked about, but without much impact to how people act. 

Water cooler talk and talk radio - as two kinds of examples - verbally repeat the good that these two have done, but no one is willing to stick their neck out and commit to what they are doing, becoming like them in word and in deed.  "Lack of trust in corrupt and poorly managed institutions," they cry.  "I'm not a joiner," retorts another.   

(4) Their testimony creates deep division between the group or crowd.

Calmly stating one's case concerning unjust behavior on the part of others, with gentleness and with respect, and leaving the results up to God is bound to create two opposing factions.  They are:

(a) The morally uncourageous.

These are the "go with the flow" people who don't want to see the boat rocked.  They don't want to reexamine their lives, or make any changes.  They tell themselves they are content. . . but if they are really transparently honest with themselves, theirs are the lives of quiet desperation.  True peace, love, joy, contentment. . . are not theirs to be had.  A false sense of "happiness" may appear on the surface, but if one looks deeper, one may see the tracks of their tears.  I know.  I came from such a place decades ago.  I know what it's like to live in such a place.  And the thing is. . . one doesn't have to.   But again, such a person must desire change to become what one cannot become on their own strength.  The change comes from outside the person.  I'll leave it at that for now. . .

(b) militant anarchists, New Athiests, practicing homosexuals, and various other Secular Humanists.

These are willfully blind towards any redeeming qualities of Christian and Faithful.  They are led by emotion first, facts (if any) second.  They alone know what is right, and they will force their beliefs, legislation, and social practices down your throats. . . "whether you like it or not," to quote the former Mayor of San Francisco, Gavin Newsome.  Accuracy in naming people, places and things in a narrative of complaint means little to these furious folks.  As a result, coworkers, people sharing the same name, and neighbors get in the crossfire of their accusations.  What was once a healthy, growing workplace, school, or community becomes a place of fear, mistrust, and doubt as these misguided people take control of the institution or community.  Turnover becomes high, and morale sinks ever lower as the once blooming rose now simply stinks.   

*   *   *  

Well, there you have it.  Persecution, a rather common event in the lives of Christian believers in other continents, is alive and well in North America, though in a more subdued and oblique way.  Actually, there are believers in other parts of the world that are praying for persecution to come to believers in America.  It purifies the church - the body of believers - and makes them more ready for service, for one thing.  That is a good thing that pleases Jesus, so I'd say it's time for the church in North America to get ready for some more direct and in your face persecution.  God will help us. . . and he is always faithful and true. 

From Jesus' own lips in John 15: 

18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. 21 But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.

From the Apostle whom Jesus loved in 1 John 3:

13 Do not be surprised, brothers,[c] that the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.

The next passage, also in 1 John 3, is a real practical one that gets rubber to road really well. . .no time for hypocrisy!

16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

Well said words by the sage Apostle John towards the end of his long life.  May God help me to do them the way John said.  Until next time. . .


Thursday, July 26, 2012

My Heart Aches for America

Today's guest writer is none other than the Rev. Billy Graham.  He has great words of wisdom to share. 

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July 24, 2012 - In a new prayer letter Billy Graham writes: "My heart aches for America and its deceived people. The wonderful news is that our Lord is a God of mercy, and He responds to repentance."

Some years ago, my wife, Ruth, was reading the draft of a book I was writing. When she finished a section describing the terrible downward spiral of our nation’s moral standards and the idolatry of worshiping false gods such as technology and sex, she startled me by exclaiming, “If God doesn’t punish America, He’ll have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.”

She was probably thinking of a passage in Ezekiel where God tells why He brought those cities to ruin. “Now this was the sin of ... Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen” (Ezekiel 16:49–50, NIV).

I wonder what Ruth would think of America if she were alive today. In the years since she made that remark, millions of babies have been aborted and our nation seems largely unconcerned. Self-centered indulgence, pride, and a lack of shame over sin are now emblems of the American lifestyle.

Just a few weeks ago in a prominent city in the South, Christian chaplains who serve the police department were ordered to no longer mention the Name of Jesus in prayer. It was reported that during a recent police-sponsored event, the only person allowed to pray was someone who addressed “the being in the room.” Similar scenarios are now commonplace in towns across America. Our society strives to avoid any possibility of offending anyone—except God.

Yet the farther we get from God, the more the world spirals out of control.

My heart aches for America and its deceived people. The wonderful news is that our Lord is a God of mercy, and He responds to repentance. In Jonah’s day, Nineveh was the lone world superpower—wealthy, unconcerned, and self-centered. When the Prophet Jonah finally traveled to Nineveh and proclaimed God’s warning, people heard and repented.

Read the whole thing here:  A pilgrim's pilgrim, he. . . and he gets it that America is being deceived by the Evil One.  Refreshing to hear the truth. . . and he, like me in a recent post, knows that our God is a God of Mercy.  Indeed, his kindness leads us to repentance.    

Monday, July 23, 2012

Thirsting for Mercy

In the course of my teaching duties, I came across a most atypical young man.  This youth, incarcerated in a county youth camp like almost all of the students I have in my care, asked me a simple yet profound question.

"What word comes to mind when I say mercy?" he inquired of me. 

"Grace," I replied. 

"How is that?" he asked.

I pulled out a church business card from my pocket and gave it to him.  My church's name, by the way, is Grace Chapel - you'll find the link for it on the top right of the page here under "Links for the Journey" - so I explained to him the natural connection between these two words. 

"So what you're saying is that mercy and grace are equal - is that right?" he thoughtfully summed up.

"Essentially, yes," I replied.  "They are pretty much interchangeable words to a large degree." 

"Well, I always thought that grace and mercy were different.  Grace is being nice and stuff, and mercy is when you are really needing a way out of your spot," he countered.

"Interesting that you say that," I volleyed back to him.  "I can understand that in your life situation you have come to understand those two words that way.  But in the sense of how the Bible uses those words, they are more similar in meaning than different," I advised, praying a silent prayer that the Lord would use this situation to reveal himself and his perfect will to this young man, while asking for protection against anyone who might get upset and file a complaint with the ACLU, who has a presence in this one youth camp. . . and throughout the county camp system these days due to a recent ruling from a judge.

I looked around the room for some Webster's dictionaries.  There were none, surprisingly. . . the normal situation is to find several in each classroom.  Interesting. 

My student still verbally contending that grace and mercy are with different meaning, he reaches out to his probation officer, who is stationed in the classroom by the door - standard protocol for operating such a county camp classroom for the safety and discipline of the classroom.

"Valletine, come here!" he shouted.

The probation officer, Officer Valletine, saunters towards the student's desk with his handheld computer tablet with Internet access. 

"What you say about these two words - are they the same or different?" he readily asks.

"Oh, different," the PO replies. 

"See!  Valletine agrees with me!  You've got it wrong!" he glowered at me.

"Well, maybe on a common word usage basis, perhaps.  If you would look at a good concordance or get into the original languages of Hebrew and Greek, you'll find that in that sense I'm telling you the straight scoop."

"The Bible was written in Hebrew and Greek?" he exclaimed.

"Certainly.  It sure wasn't written in English. . . only Archie Bunker believed that!" I replied. 

"What's a concordance do?" my student inquired.

"It tells you what the words mean with precision so you know what the text actually says in words you can understand and relate to," I answered. 

"Oh."  He slumped back in the chair as if in resignation, realizing there was a lot more in the world that he had never realized existed or had seen yet. 

He looks at his probation officer and asks, "You get a concordance thing up on that computer?"

"Yup, sure thing.  We can go look at one when you get out of class and see what we can find, OK?" he reassuringly replied.  

A moment of calm in my student heart was thus achieved.  Relief that he could find out what he wanted to find out.  It was important, because he was writing lyrics in his dorm time hours, and he wanted to do the best job he could in expressing himself and his yearnings for freedom and release from camp and its walled, barbed wire confinement.  But not mere physical freedom. . . the kind of spiritual freedom which is found only in Jesus Christ. "So if the Son sets you free, you shall be free indeed," Jesus said in John 8:36. 

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Well, my student's question has been richoteting in my mind the last few days.  Let's answer it by looking at some applicable verses. (All in ESV unless noted otherwise)

From Hebrews 4:16:

 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Strong's Concordance lists our word "mercy" from the above passage as eleos, meaning

mercy: kindness or good will towards the miserable and the afflicted, joined with a desire to help them
  1. of men towards men: to exercise the virtue of mercy, show one's self merciful
  2. of God towards men: in general providence; the mercy and clemency of God in providing and offering to men salvation by Christ
  3. the mercy of Christ, whereby at his return to judgment he will bless true Christians with eternal life
Contrast with "grace" which Strong's identifies as charis, from where we get our English word "charity":

that which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, loveliness: grace of speech

  1. good will, loving-kindness, favour
    1. of the merciful kindness by which God, exerting his holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ, keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues
  2. what is due to grace
  3. the spiritual condition of one governed by the power of divine grace
  4. the token or proof of grace, benefit
    1. a gift of grace
    2. benefit, bounty
  5. thanks, (for benefits, services, favours), recompense, reward
From Titus 3:5-7:

5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Grace and mercy again appear in our text above.  Here, the sense is the same.  The exact same Greek words appear as before.  

Perhaps it's best to restate the above verses from Titus this way: "he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own  clemency of God in providing and offering to men Salvation by Christ, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ or Savior, so that being justified by his loving-kindness and merciful kindness which turns them to Christ we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life."

Clemency.  Salvation.  Lovingkindness.  Isn't that what all of humankind yearns for?  And that word "clemency" is a well used term in the prison systems across the United States. 

Finally, from James 2:13:

 Mercy triumphs over judgment.

Another way to put it is "The clemency of God in providing and offering to men Salvation by Christ triumphs over judgment."

Clemency is, of course, another way of expressing the notion of redemption, an important Biblical theme in and of itself.  Hey. . . even a major motion picture deals with the topic in a gritty but emotionally moving way: The Shawshank Redemption. 

Was I correct in my initial response to my student in what grace meant versus mercy?  Strong's does mention that part of the definition of grace is merciful kindness. . . so in that sense I got it right.  In the larger sense of the words' meanings, I needed to be clearer in my definitions.  That's what you get when you work in a tax supported public school system environment, though.  But I am thinking about the possibility of purchasing a tablet and taking it to my next work assignment for a situation like the one I had here.  The Lord will provide, as he always does. . . in his time.  Until then. . .