Friday, December 19, 2014

Sobering Space

Even when we cooperate with law enforcement, police, and prisons, getting folks to admit their alcohol or other problem through their shyness/denial is the main battle.  No amount of time behind bars or shame can bring about the change if the person denies the problem exists.  But if anyone were to hit bottom, jail might be a good place to do it.

We are grateful for recent opportunities to partner with area prisons, jails, even the local drunk tank, where people wake up and dry out after being apprehended by police.  

Every Tuesday morning we get to share the possibility of sobriety and healing with a literally captive audience of Mongolians who have been jailed for drunkenness.  What they really want is out of jail, but some people's relatives won't get them out.  We want to see them freed from their addictions and freed eternally.  

Our hope is that the invitations we pass out will lead people to discover the steps and possibilities of overcoming alcohol and sin addiction through Celebrate Recovery.

Celebrating the Small Steps

So when your neighbor drops in to talk about neighborhood issues and offers you to share a basement storage unit, I guess he must trust you.  Our neighbor did this the other night.

He is a man around 60 years old named Eternity.  An older man coming to visit a younger one is quite a step, and he has work so it wasn't about the money.  He offered it as a neighborly gesture and let us store the kids' bikes and sleds in there before for free.

Eternity has read the Bible quite a bit.  I've seen the Bible he has read and it is quite worn. I being the missionary usually bring up the subject of Jesus and spiritual things.  But the other night when we were done talking about locks, doors, and storage and stuff, he brought up the spiritual subject...

"One day this winter when we're free let's plan some times to talk for about the Bible", and then he really surprised me saying, "Then one Sunday I'd like to visit your church"!

You could take this as if I'm a bad missionary because I didn't offer and get him to church before.  But relationships in Mongolia are funny.  If you're too forward, people shy away easily.  Plus then they are compelled by politeness and everyone ends up feeling like the visitor did everyone a favor by coming to church.

But praying for God to draw people is the sure way that the favor rests with God.  He alone can draw sinners to himself, and then the responsibility is on the sinner to come to Jesus.  We are the debtors and he is the Forgiver.  Grateful that God is answering prayer.

If you want to join us in praying for our neighbor, pray that the conversations and church visits happen, and that Eternity understands what is required to experience eternal life.  Pray for him and his whole family to come to find forgiveness and full life in Christ.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

What is Grace?

The Heresy of Grace
Grace is unmerited favor.  It’s getting something you don’t deserve.  Acting as if you deserve it, is abuse of grace.  Grace is not a means to satiate the desires of the flesh, mocking God in willful sins that assume He is ‘bound’ to forgive.  He is not.  Grace does not negate or deny the truth.  It freely admits wrong behaviors, words, thoughts as a path to forgiveness and freedom from sin.
Today’s understanding of grace seems to have overshadowed truth.  Saying something ‘is not wrong' is untrue.  In our culture and even churches at times seems to me closer to politeness or the all-allusive ‘appropriateness’ or even prudence. 
Certainly it is not wrong to be polite, mind your own business and avoid being rude.  The Love chapter 1 Corinthians 13 reminds us, “love is not rude”.  Note it also doesn’t mention love being polite. But too much politeness can lead to avoidance of the truth; a kind of polite paralysis if you like.  
Similarly, “appropriateness” may have its place, but it makes a miserable life-goal or god in itself.  “That’s inappropriate” you hear even children say these days.  Certainly there have to be rules about behaviors, and some are unacceptable.  But to make being appropriate or politically correct the main goal is to be bound to culture, human opinion, or conventional society.  We can avoid doing anything hard or true or right because of a fear of being labeled “inappropriate”.  Such can be a kind of neo-law that actually holds back grace.
Prudence is important to remember, especially in eternal matters and may help us avoid rash or careless words or acts.  But to continually say or think “wouldn’t be prudent…at this juncture” is to put off acting altogether.  This is not grace. It is a coward’s excuse to disobey.
To use politeness, appropriate, or prudence as an excuse to do no true grace.  Rather, admitting our own wrongs, remembering all we’ve been forgiven of, we become free to act with grace toward others.  Accepting the truth of our own sin is essential to a correct understanding and life lived in grace.  If you or I are obviously judgmental, legalistically religious, who would dare to show us their vulnerabilities?  How much less would they show them to God?
Grace is unmerited favor.  We abuse it if we get too used to it, believe the lie that we deserve it, or lose sight of the truth altogether.  Speaking the Truth in Love, we demonstrate God’s own love for us.  “That while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  This is true grace, and delivers us from the Law and the lies of the evil one.
What about a fall from grace?  Is this like your luck running out?  Or being down on your luck?  If you think about grace as unmerited favor, but then you start to act as if God loves you because of how great you are, then it is very possible for that favor to turn to displeasure.
Think about a child/parent relationship.  The kid is making mud pies and presenting them with love to the parent.  The favor and pleasure of the parent is not for the performance of the great tasting pie, but for the intent and love in the service.  
Imagine the child grows up to be a baker of world renowned pies, becomes rich and famous in Paris and New York.  Pride causes him to begin pushing people around.  The favor of ‘God and man’ is removed and people begin to resent and despise him.  Soon he is exposed for some proud sin like tax evasion or abuse of employees and experiences a “fall from grace”.
Is this the same thing as your luck running out?  I don’t know, but 2 Peter 3:17,18 implores God’s people: “Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.” 
        Grace is favor granted by God to those who don’t deserve it.  Did God have to come to earth and suffer death for us in Jesus Christ?  How many parents do you know who go to prison for their children’s crimes, even submit to the death penalty for them?  Certainly there may be some who have wanted to.  What if our justice system allowed it?  How many little old ladies would have been hung from gallows in the old west.  That would have been gruesome enough, but then what if the criminal then came and trampled on her grave, or worse, all the while demanding he deserved more?  Most anyone would say the criminal was undeserving and the punishment unjust. Any reasonable person would long for the spoiled, abusive criminal to bear his own punishment.
The truth is “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6 and Proverbs 3:4)  Let us humbly remember we don’t deserve grace, lest we fall.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Big Families Gather

Hi Folks, In this season of Thanksgiving, it is good to see God's bounty.  We are not the only American missionary family in Darhan with five kids.  Our friends live and minister in Mongolia on a farm just outside of town.  Here are their kids and ours, all 10, around our table this fall.  God is good.  It's fun to get together and gather to celebrate.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

No Silver Bullet, but Silver Lining

So signing in to write about our Celebrate Recovery meetings, I see the previous post about a magic potion.  There isn't one.  When people come to CR, many have several times looked other recovery options, including chemical treatment, changing locations, or even Christian conversion.

There was a man last night who came whose name means Courage.  He is homeless and missing teeth and blind in one eye.  But he was sober and said that some social medical people were planning to give him some time in a local hospital for some other health needs.  So he will have a chance to dry out.  At CR, he can talk about the choices and some of the pain that may have caused him to make his life choices.  Unraveling the maze of a lifetime of turns and twists will take time.  But who has more time than God, or a homeless man?  These are God-sized problems, that I believe only God can heal.

There is another regular attender of our CR whose name means Peace.  He is 42 and never married.  He has been a long time believer in Jesus which has kind of made him the black sheep of the family, perhaps also because he is unemployed.  But he is finding healing and place to talk out his problems.  Celebrate Recovery has a slogan that "you're only as sick as your secrets".  CR is a safe place to talk about hurts, hang-ups and habits, where people  can get hints into the places where they need healing, and find freedom from whatever has caused poor life choices.

Last night we had to refuse one man into the small group circle who had come after drinking.  That makes it a little hard for anyone else to get a word in edgewise, if someone is speaking from the 'spirits' of the liquid variety.  But there is hope, since he seems to be coming around a little more sober each time.  I believe he will come dry next week.  His name means Lucky.

CR seems like AA and other recovery groups to be where people come when they run out of all other options.  It is not a magic potion, but it is a place where God willing, love, grace, and truth can help people find the courage to face the phantoms of their past with faith and press into a brighter future of freedom from hurts, hang-ups, and habits.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Magic Potion

Today we went to the market to invite people to our first fall Celebrate Recovery meeting. We ended up at the place in the market where men spend the day shooting pool on dilapidated outdoor felt tables.  Most were curious what we were doing there.

Trying to explain the idea behind recovery, I used the following:

"If you could drink a potion that would make you never drink or smoke again, how much would that be worth?"  Talking people through how much money they drink per month, some estimated $100. That's a lot in a country where that's more than the monthly minimum wage.

Add to that freedom from tobacco and other vices, and they start to understand the value such a potion might have.  Then they learn it is free, but not really liquid, but invisible spirit.  (Not the kind of spirits they were just talking about)

I'm not sure the potion pitch will really bring people to the meeting.  At least maybe it would open their eyes to their need for the gospel a little bit.  Most of them asked right away anyway: "you mean Jesus?"  He is not a magic potion I know.

But think of how valuable He has proven to those who have been delivered from bondage.  How much money and pain has he saved you?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Openings for the Message

Our internet has been bad lately.  After signing back up for the same service, they claimed the speed had doubled from 1MB to 2MB/second.  This was great news.  But then we started experiencing about a tenth of that speed and frequent outages of service.

So we complained and they said our phone line was defective, the same word we use to describe human's sinful nature.  So we had some fun saying our phone line was sinful.

But the sent out a repairman the next day, and he found that the line inside our house was almost completely severed.  No wonder the phone wasn't working!

I was grateful and offered the guy some tea.  I asked him how long he had been working for the Mongolian post office.  He answered 26 years, the offered "I'm doing my work and then I'll die" as kind of a joke.  So I had my opening to talk about eternal things.

"What happens after you die?", I asked.  "I think I'll probably become an animal", he answered.  I have heard and read about Buddhism's belief in reincarnation for years, but never actually heard someone expect to come back as an animal.  He was mostly serious I think.  As he drank his tea, we found out we are the same age.  Which means he must have started working when he was 18.  He said he married early so his kids were grown.

I really liked the way he opened up to me.  Finally he asked what I do for work.  Mongolia is a simple place and men especially subscribe to the Solomonic view:  "The more the words the less the meaning".  (Ecclesiastes 6:11)  So I have learned to get my answer about my work down to one word like they usually do: 'Carpenter', 'driver', 'teacher'.

I might have done any of these jobs in my work in Mongolia, but none of them really captures the purpose of my coming.  Neither does saying 'I work at a project center that helps people and families'.  So I just say one word: 'Esus', which is pronounced YAYsus in Mongolian.  People understand immediately that my job and purpose is spiritual.  The name Jesus means "the Lord saves", and opens ears to do my job, deliver that message.

He responded that he has a relative who follows Jesus.  Then I asked him if he would like to go to "the eternal country" as most Mongolians like to say.  He acted like he couldn't conceive of that.  So I tried to say to him gently the truth Jesus said about himself: Yasus bol monxiin amiin zam'...  (John 14:6 "I am the way, the truth, and the life") "Jesus is the road to eternal life".

Many people who have been in Christianity for years still cannot say for sure that they are going to heaven.  But that's why Jesus came to earth, to die to forgive our sin, and rise again to secure our place in heaven.  Jesus' own words recorded in John 3:15 have jumped out at me again lately: "so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life."

I am glad for the opening I got to point someone to the truth yesterday in Mongolia.  For that is the main purpose I was sent here.  It is hard when you get distracted or darkness dampers people's desire to hear about light.  But sometimes God gives us a good opening to deliver the message of life.  Another Mongolian friend of mine said recently when we were reading and talking about eternal life, and I asked him 'does this sound good to you'?  He answered: "Of course! I'm going to fear death aren't I?"

Not any more will he need to fear, because the Lord gave him faith to trust Jesus for eternal life.  And now he can say he is saved from his sins to live forever in heaven.

Let's hope that the same thing happens someday for the guy that fixed my phone line.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Strawberry Rides Again - Reflections

Upon our return to Darhan, we were all glad to see that our aging horse Strawberry Roan was in excellent health. He is back to his homeland and wears it well. We got him here about 7 years ago.  He is probably 14 or 15 years old now, which is pretty old for a Mongolian horse.  Josiah fits perfectly in the same kid's saddle that his daddy and Grandma Suzy also rode as children.  

When we were driving to Darhan from Ulaanbaatar a day after we got off the plane, Josiah woke up from his nap and exclaimed "Whoa!" at seeing all the free-range herds of livestock all over the prairie and crossing the road in front of us.  A few minutes later he announced for all in the car to hear:  "I like this place!"  So do we.

Back in Darhan

Well here we are, back in our three bedroom apartment in Darhan.  As we settled back in we noticed our family keeps getting bigger in number and size, but our living space is not.

So that means we have to stay on top of our western materialist tendency to accumulate more stuff.  We must be vigilant to let go of stuff we don't use.  True freedom is not in owning a lot of stuff, but making sure your stuff doesn't own you, someone smarter than me has said.  We can waste a lot of time categorizing and storing stuff if we're not careful.

Less is more.  As Jesus said, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions." Luke 12:15

We had a minor infestation of moths into our rugs in that we left out, especially the parts that we under the couch and in the hall runner.  We had to throw out some of them, but one is still good enough to use at work.  "But keep on storing up treasures for yourselves in heaven, where moths and rust do not destroy". Matthew 6:20

It's been good to get desk and office set up there at the Cama Project Center.  Setting up an office for Celebrate Recovery is a first step in seeing more and more CR groups built into local churches to help set folks free from destructive hurts, hangups, and habits.

One of the first days back in our apartment, our friends' children came knocking on our door with a basket of two fully prepared meals and a bunch of dairy products from their farm.   What a blessing!  Another couple nights later they had us our to dinner at their place.  The Shell family also has 5 kids, so we were 14 around one well stocked table.  

The summer is pretty warm here.  The forecast occasionally calls for rain, but there hasn't been much.  Only one brief thunder shower one morning last week for about 30 minutes.  Renee and I just took a Sunday after-lunch walk thinking we might need a sweatshirt.  We needed hat and sunglasses instead and didn't have them.  It's hot out there, probably 80!

Showing up during the Naadam summer fair festival season, a lot of places were closed for the 5 day National Holiday.  So it was a good time for unpacking and settling in.

Some times have fun have included the kids playing with their friends and school mates, who live just downstairs.  Also riding our horse Strawberry, and playing in dirt piles for the younger kids.  Later this summer we hope to go camping and maybe fishing.

Overall, it's nice to be back somewhere for longer than a year and to clear out of suitcases for a good long while God willing.  Pray for our churches and Christian brothers and sisters to overcome the current of culture dominated by power and poverty.  

May we be found faithful in making disciples and delivering the message to Mongolians.