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This morning, we’re leaving on the first leg of a trip that will, we pray, lead our family in different directions, and then back together again in just over three weeks’ time. Today we’ll drive to Accra, Ghana. On the way, just before Accra we’ll be having lunch with Martin and Susan Brooks in Tema. Martin and Susan were at Lipscomb when I was there and now work with Team Expansion based in Louisville, Kentucky, They are in Ghana for six months to begin to put together a program to partner African and foreign churches to send African missionaries to unreached people groups.

Tomorrow evening, I plan to fly out via Frankfurt to the States. Early Friday afternoon, Maureen and the boys plan to fly to Singapore via Dubai, United Arab Emirates. We’ve flown that route before – the airlines and airport are nice, and it cuts out a lot of flying time compared to the other routes, which are through Europe, and it’s much cheaper. Here’s the catch—we were unable to get them confirmed on the next flight out of Dubai, so they have a 23 hour layover in Dubai. We’ve reserved a hotel room, but that will mean Maureen leaving the airport with the two boys in a place that they know nothing about. There is a chance that they can get on the next flight after their arrival, which would only mean a three hour wait. Please pray that chance turns into reality, through the power of God who leaves nothing to chance. (OK, maybe some things are; I’m not trying to get in a debate, just to affirm God’s sovereignty.)

Pray for safety on the road and in the air, smooth border crossings, that Dubai layover, a good time together as a family, good times with our families and friends in America and Singapore, a joyful reunion, and that we will be God’s instruments wherever we go.

P.S. Wednesday night — made it to Accra fine, except for a three hour delay to have some repairs done on the car. Missed lunch with the Brooks, but did stop by for a nice visit.

On Father’s day, after worship, we went for lunch at a newly opened beach hotel. The food was good and after lunch we stayed on at the beach. Jonathan really like the beach and wanted to play, jumping into the waves. I was a little apprehensive as the waves seemed pretty rough but decided to go with Jonathan, staying close to the shore. There is a breakwater so I thought it would be pretty safe. We had a good time till a big wave swept me and Jonathan off our feet and we went under the water but we managed to get up. I thought Jon would be scared but when I asked him, he said that he was but he liked scary things. He wanted to stay on so we stayed for a little while more. Jeremy and Jonathan then played in the small swimming pool before they wanted to go back to play on the beach jumping into the waves again. I had them on each side of me that time. We were having fun till another big wave swept Jonathan off his feet. I reached down to get him when another wave came in and I lost my balance. Jeremy, by then, was down on the sand too. A few waves came in succession and for a second, I thought I’d lost them both. But I was able to push Jonathan further up the beach while a worker at the hotel managed to get hold of Jeremy. I had a hard time getting up as I must have hurt my knee when I fell, but was able to get out of the waves finally. Anthony wasn’t around as he was away retrieving a kite that Jeremy was flying before it got away. It was a scary experience but I thank God that He was with us and protected us from harm. Anyway, when we recovered and dried off, I told Anthony what happened and mentioned what Jonathan said about liking “scary things”.  Jon interrupted and told us, “I don’t like scary things anymore.”  I guess that the last wave was a little too much for him.

Looking back, what scares me most is what Jonathan said about liking scary things.  I can’t help but think of what he might get himself into in the future. I have to remind myself that not to worry but to trust God to take care of him. As his mom, my job is to be there for him, to teach him and to lift him up to our Heavenly Father.

Yesterday I had one of those experiences where God’s grace was just unmistakable.  Maureen, Jonathan, and I set off for the capital city of Lomé early in the morning.  We had planned to leave both our boys with our teammates, but Jonathan is having a stomach bug and we decided to take him to the doctor.  I had a couple of other appointments as well.

The road that leads from our small town out to the main two-lane highway through the country is badly potholed.  Some work has been done recently, however, to patch some of these holes.  Crews “cook” the tar in barrels on the side of the road, and mix it with gravel to seal the holes.  The gravel on top remains loose for a while.

We were driving over some of this loose gravel, when we passed one of the big trucks that have destroyed the road, on their way back and forth to our local cement factory.  The truck threw gravel as it passed us, and apparently a pretty large piece hit our windshield in the upper right corner, right in front of where Maureen always sits.  The corner of the windshield shattered, but remained intact, except for glass splinters that showered the passenger seat where Maureen always sits.

Only yesterday, she wasn’t sitting there.  She had decided to sit in the back seat with Jonathan in case he needed attention.  If she had been sitting there, she may have just gotten a lap full of glass.  Of one of those splinters may have gone into her eye.  We just don’t know.  But we are thankful for God’s random acts of grace.

The day before Father’s day, I helped my boys made a little booklet card for Anthony. Jeremy was excited at first but then started to whine as he thought that it was too much work. He needed some pushing but finally got it done. Just before he went to bed that night, he enthusiastically added some finishing touch to the booklet, all excited about giving it to daddy.

The next day at breakfast, when Jeremy gave the card to daddy, he was so pleased and happy that daddy loved the card and started telling daddy how he put the card together. In all his excitement, he had forgotten that it was pretty hard work to put the card together. When I asked him whether it was worth all the hard work, he smiled and agreed that it was worth it because daddy like it and it made daddy happy.

It reminded me that our Christian life is just like that, following Jesus is not always easy. We have to work hard at it because of our sinful nature but won’t it be worth it all when we see God’s approval as he says “Well done”.

 

I’m having a great Father’s Day.  A handmade card from my boys, my favorite breakfast casserole prepared by my wife, encouraging worship with the Christians in Nyitaveglovi, lunch at a great new beach restaurant only an hour and half away, and now we’re getting ready for leftover pizza and devo with our teammates, the Crowsons. 

Last night I got (another) chance to practice my fathering skills.  My boys want to have a wrestling match every night before they go to bed.  I’m not always up to it, but since all the fathering books say that it’s good for their masculinity, I try to oblidge whenever I can.  The routine is the same.  I’m told to sit in the middle of the carpet in their room, to close my eyes, and to wait for them to come and attack me.  Last night they were a little sneakier.  Jeremy snuck up from behind while Jonathan climbed on the bed and jumped on my head.  Their object is to “get me down,” which happens only when I decide I’m ready for the wrestling to stop.

I don’t know how much longer it’ll last, but for now I’m able to pretty much keep the wrestling match under control.  That takes a little strength—just a little more than they have—as well as some wisdom.  If I don’t control my strength, someone gets hurt and then there are tears to dry.  They like to wrestle with me, not because they think they can defeat me, but because they want to be engaged with me, to interact with me, even if it is through struggle.  They’re also testing themselves, looking forward to the day when they control the match.  It may not be very long.

I’ve pondered what kind of parallels this has with wrestling with God.  Jacob did it, and came out with a bum hip and a new name, Israel.  And since that time, God’s Israel seems to always be wrestling with him.  We want to be is in the position of wrestling with God and not against him – engaging God, testing him and ourselves, struggling with him until we bow in submission.  What’s amazing is that, in his grace, God accepts to wrestle with us.  He interacts with us.  Sometimes he bends his will to ours.  Sometimes he lets us think that we’ve won, although he’s been in control all along.  He does it, not because there is any doubt as to his strength or his wisdom, but for the same reason I wrestle with my boys – because he loves us.

Quite a while back, I gave some quotes from Eckhard J. Schnabel’s Early Christian Mission.  This massive, 1900+ page two volume work has been quite the ordeal to work through.  It’s required reading for a course I’ll be taking in July.  Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have come across it, or picked it up if I did.  A lot of the reading has been drudgery, as I skimmed long sections giving detailed background information on every city or travel route, Jesus, the Twelve, or Paul did or might have traveled through. 

Having waded through all of that, here in the last 300 or so pages, I’m getting to the good part.  What is coming out is that, at least in Schnabel’s view, the apostle Paul’s missiology didn’t always confirm to the ideals taught.

Here’s an example:

The gospel is ‘God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16; cf. 1 Cor. 1:18, 24).  As a result, the decision that people make—their reaction to the gospel message—has eschatological and apocalyptic consequences.*  The encounter between the gospel and people reveals that people have their distinctive presuppositions about God (1 Cor. 1:22-25).  These presuppositions differentiate humankind as Jews and pagans. … Despite such cultural and religious differences between Jews and Gentiles, Paul reduces all people to a common denominator:  all people miss the reality of the one true God; neither pagans nor Jews can comprehend the reality of God as he has revealed himself in the cross of Jesus Christ.  For Jews the cross is a stumbling block, while for pagans it is folly.  But it is at the cross that God has revealed himself . . . .  And it is exactly this fact that neither Jews nor pagans can understand. . . . The cross of Jesus Christ, the center of Paul’s theology, cannot be integrated into the presuppositions of human reasoning or reflection, whether Jewish, Greek, or Roman.  People come to know God only when they abandon their preconceived notions about God, when they relinquish their criteria and their standards for divine behavior and action, when they let God be God. (pp. 1337-1338)

Here Schnabel shows how Paul contradicts two cherished missiological principles:
(1)  He lumps all people together, despite their cultural differences.  On one level at least – the level of our fallen humanity — all people are the same.
(2)  The gospel cannot be understood in terms of pre-existing cultural assumptions. The cross, properly understood, is a scandal in every culture.

I don’t think that Schnabel is saying that it is a waste of time to try to understand culture.  Paul did understand the people he worked among, whether Jew or Gentile.  But most often we relate the gospel to a culture by contrast rather than by comparison.  The minute we start finding too many similarities with prevailing culture – whether its African tradition or a scientific worldview or post-modernism – we’ve probably stumbled over the stumbling block of the cross.

I’ve labeled this #1 with the intention of sharing some other examples.  We’ll see how it goes.

*Here Schnabel cites Eichholz [Die Theologie des Paulus im Umriss, 7th ed., 1991] 1972, 58-60.  For a critique of Rudolf Bultmann’s anthropological hermeneutic see ibid., 44-48.

Back in the dark ages when we used to send out a snail mail newsletter, almost all the feedback we received was to a back page column called, “Maureen’s Musings.”  That was a column written by my wife with reflections on the kids, the garden, life in Africa – whatever came to mind.  I usually had to push to get a column out of her, but it became obvious that it was everyone’s favorite part of the newsletter.

Now, Maureen’s Musings has returned in the form of a blog.  Be sure to visit and comment, to encourage her to write more.

“Dear God, Thank you for a good day……and give me a good day tomorrow………amen.”

 That’s always part of the prayer that my older son, Jeremy says every night. For a while, I have been telling him that he should not always say the same thing every night and to not always think about himself and the “give me”. Then it occurred to me that it’s his faith and trust in God to give him a good day. In his mind, a good day can only come from God and it’s OK to ask His Father to give it to him daily. No wonder Jesus said “let the little children come to me, for such is the kingdom of heaven”. For many of us, we would never feel right to ask God for a good time, or a good day. We may ask Him to guide us or provide what we need, but a good day…(at least for me)  no, it just doesn’t seem right to ask for that. So instead, we trust in ourselves to have a good day, to do things that will make our day pleasant and most of the time, at the end of our day, we cannot say that we have a good day.  Maybe, the reason why our days are not so good is because we do not ask. “You do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2).

For Jeremy, he asks God for a good day and when the day is over, he thanks God for the good day. It does not matter whether he has “boo boos” or that he is disappointed over some things….it is a good day and he can go to sleep and wake up to have another good day. Oh, how good it is to be a child and just trust in our Heavenly Father to give us a good day

 

 

Remember the story of the ten lepers that Jesus healed, but only one returned to thank him? It seems that ingratitude is the norm with us humans. We receive so much and say thanks so little. But oh, what a difference God’s Spirit can make! Just look at all the good things that are being done all over the world in the name of Jesus. What else could motivate Christians but gratitude? There’s no way we can earn our salvation, and no way to pay Jesus back for purchasing it for us. So what is left, but to say “Thank you”?

Last night I heard how God’s Spirit worked in a group of Christians, moving them to say “thanks.” A week or two ago, one of the local Christians became critically ill. Some of his family took him to Hammer Afakule, a local evangelist that they thought could help. The sick man, Francois, was not from Hammer’s church, but from another church on the other side of “Watchiland.” Hammer didn’t have the money to take the guy to the hospital, so he borrowed it – about $100, which is a tremendous sum here.

Last night I talked to Hammer and he told me that a group of men from Francois’ church had ridden their bicycles to come and thank him for helping their brother. He was deeply touched. The bike ride probably took them about half a day. The people who came are just poor farmers, riding heavy “bush” bicycles. Hammer said that he knew that if they could have helped financially, they would have. Instead, they did all that they could. They put forth the effort to say “thanks.”

I was also touched. Touched by the faith that led these men to make the long trip. (Their trip wasn’t finished when they got to Hammer. They still had another long ride to the hospital to visit Francois, and then back home. It’s doubtful whether they made it in a day.) I was touched by the sense of community that would make them feel that it was their job to say thanks for something done for someone else. I was touched by Hammer’s willingness to sacrifice, to go into debt to help someone he barely knows.

“Thanks” is not a cheap response to grace. It can be a costly response, but it is the only response we can make. Because we are all just poor farmers, or sick lepers, unable to help ourselves or anyone else. It’s only because we are in a relationship with the One who can provide help, who did so at a great cost to Himself, that we can have hope. And all we can do is to say, “Thanks.” At whatever the cost.

I have always enjoyed cooking and that means trying out new recipes and “perfecting” old ones. Sometimes, the food doesn’t always turn out like it should. For me the food I cooked never turn out the same, even though I may use the same ingredients. The day before, I made some cinnamon rolls and dinner rolls. They were the best ever, soft and ymmmmm so good, (even if I say so myself). Actually my husband and kids rave about those rolls. A thought just came to mind. The rolls were so good because I had the previous ones (not so good ones) to compare with. It’s as though God is impressing on me that all our previous experiences in life counts, whether good or bad, to mold us into what He wants us to be. And if, I stopped baking just because my rolls weren’t that good, I would have missed out on some good ones.

So, don’t be discouraged by some bad experience, let God use it to teach you and mold you.