Courage

上帝将Vernon弟兄带来中国烟台,送给我们极为宝贵的礼物:信心!
Vernon
弟兄还让我们学到了:“无论做什么,都要为荣耀上帝而行”
哈利路亚!感谢上帝,我愿将余生全然奉献给上帝,任凭主用,全然顺服!

God brought Brother Vernon to China Yantai and gave us an extremely precious gift: confidence!  Brother Vernon also taught us: “Whatever you do, do it for the glory of God.”  Hallelujah! Thank God, I would like to dedicate the rest of my life to God, let the Lord use it, and obey!

The above quote if from a comment I received on my web site upon returning from my trip to China.  It was written in Chinese and since I don’t speak Chinese I used Google Translate for the English translation.  I share this for the purpose that you may see just what goes into such a commitment.  While I was in China at one of our share times, I was asked the question, “How do you know if you have been called into the ministry?”  I answered him by telling him of how it happened for me, noting that it is not the same for everyone.  When the Lord called me, I wasn’t sure that I was being called because there was nothing solid beyond the need.  I had even gone to my pastor and asked him if the Lord might be calling me to the ministry.  His advice to me both shocked me and became the advice I have given to many others.  He said, “If you can do anything other than preach and be happy doing it, then don’t preach.”  This is great advice because the Bible says, 2Pe 1:10 Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall:  There are many that enter into the ministry without making their calling certain but then drop out of the ministry when things begin to be rough.

Upon hearing this advice I immediately thought, that lets me out as I had many interest and I knew that I wasn’t ready to make such a serious commitment so I gave up on the idea.  Here lies an important point and that is that if God is calling you then you will ultimately find that there is nothing else that you can do that will satisfy your soul and you will only find peace doing that which God has called you to do.  You will not run God off because you said no for he sees past your emotional response to His divine purpose.

Such a commitment in China come with an additional consideration.  It is one that is present in all circumstances but is not always realized.  For example, in America you may find a group of enthusiastic supporters and even a career where society will accept you and see you as an important part of the social order.  In China, you will face great persecution that can ultimately cost you your life and all you hold dear.  It may lead to severe hardship and social rejection.  In short it will cost you and the path may be harsh, bringing suffering and rejection which may even include your family.  This was all clear to this young man so why would he make such a commitment?

For the same reason that Moses rejected all that Egypt had to offer. Comforts, ease, the choice of life and position (he was in line to be the next Pharaoh), and choose to be identified with the Hebrews and a life of servitude.  That reason is found in Heb 11:26 Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward.  Until this makes perfect sense to you, you would be well advised to wait on your ministry.

It takes courage to make the choice and it take courage to wait on God’s confirmation.  Another way of saying the same thing is that it takes faith in the Lord to bring it to pass.  That faith requires first that there be a call, second that you are willing to  entrust yourself to the Lord for its fulfillment, and finally that it is up to God to put you into the ministry.   Are you listening?  Do you hear his still small voice?  Do you trust Him?  Would you do as David did and offer a sacrifice that properly represents true worship?  2Sa 24:24 And the king said unto Araunah, Nay; but I will surely buy it of thee at a price: neither will I offer burnt offerings unto the LORD my God of that which doth cost me nothing. So David bought the threshingfloor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver.

 

 

Hunger In China

Before going to China, my concept of a man living in China was a man with a straw hat, working in a rice patty and living in a thatched hut.  The picture that I saw when I actually went there is nothing like that.  I am sure that there are some who live in such meager circumstances but they are not the norm.  What I saw was a nation that has evolved into the 21st century.  The cities are much larger than the cities of America.  There are over a hundred cities of over a million people.  There were high rise buildings well beyond what we see here in America.  For example, one complex of apartment buildings can house 200,000 people.  The streets are sometimes six or more lanes in each direction.  You see cell phones there as often as you do here and the youth are just as attached to their phones as we are here.  Construction is much more active there than here.  From my room I could see 4 major construction sites of multiple high rise buildings of from 25 to 50 stories; consisting of 6 to 12 buildings each.  There were at least 6 other sites within the same radius of view that I couldn’t see. Their stores looked much like the ones you see here only everything was written in Chinese.

What I didn’t see was just as dramatic as what I did see.  I didn’t see hope in the eyes of the people.  Though there were signs of prosperity, I noticed that there was an absence of purpose.  It was as if they were asking to what purpose is all of this?  There was a small remnant who remember what it was like before Communism took over and they spoke of that time as a lost world.

I didn’t see answers to life’s eternal questions; “Who am I?; Where did I come from?; Where am I going?; and Why am I here?”  Several that I spoke to stated that they had never even seen a foreigner before my coming.  There reaction to me was like asking the question, “What is out there?”.  Some were quizzed by government officials as to whether or not there had been any foreigners in their services.  Since that occurred prior to my coming they could safely answer no.  But now . . . ?

Their hunger was illustrated by their actions.  Some would travel up to two hours just to get there.  They arrived early, some as much as 30-40 minutes, which they spent in prayer.  They sat on a plastic stool with no back, like the ones you would find in a children’s classroom.  They would sit there up to two hours or more without fidgeting or complaining and take notes like a college student studding for an exam. They ask lots of questions.   They brought refreshments which we spent an hour or more enjoying after the meeting.  Then they would travel up to two hours, returning home.  Then they would do it all over again at the next session and never miss a meeting. This sacrifice was considered small in proportion to what was gained.  We call that a bargain.

This kind of commitment caused me to reflect on our own meetings here in America.  If we speak over 30 minutes we risk someone’s ire.  If the seating isn’t comfortable they may not return.  We miss attending because of multiple excuses.  Our minds wander and our hearts grow cold.  Historically, the church has flourished under persecution but it has floundered during prosperity.  King David had it right in 2 Samuel 24:24 And the king said unto Araunah, Nay; but I will surely buy it of thee at a price: neither will I offer burnt offerings unto the LORD my God of that which doth cost me nothing. So David bought the threshingfloor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver.  A  faith that cost nothing is valued in the same way.

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving this year has taken on a whole new dimension.  I have so much to thank the Lord for that I hardly know where to start.  The top of the list is my salvation.  I used to think that I was a pretty good guy and that I didn’t have all that much sin to be forgiven for.  Now I see just how much sin there is.  The older I get the more I see my sin and sometimes it seems that I have more than I had when I was first saved.  The truth is that it was there all the time but I just had not seen it for what it is.  I find that now, sin is more repulsive and devastating so I am more thankful than ever for His forgiveness.

Next, I am thankful for my family, especially my wife of nearly 53 years who has stood faithfully by my side and is a continual source of blessings.  The Bible says in Psalms 127:4-5 As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth.  Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.  My wife and I have 7 children; 21 grandchildren and  10 great grandchildren who are a continual source of joy.  There were plenty of times that it was more than hard with the burden of raising my family but now that burden has turned to joy and hope.  Seeing them build their lives on solid principles and grow in grace and knowledge of the Lord is a constant pleasure.

I am thankful for my church family.  They are a tremendous blessing in more ways than I am conscious of.  They not only minister to my spiritual needs but also to my social needs as well.  It is nice to be edified by healthy support and encouragement as well as prayers, music, sermons, teaching, and on and on.  I thank God for my church family.

I am thankful for my ministry.  It gives me an outlet for all my erg serve a real purpose.  I really enjoy sharing the Word of God and ministering to others in their faith walk.  One of my favorite verses is III John 4, I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.  I am thankful that the Lord moved me here to Texas to meet several contacts that I am working with to translate my book into 4 other languages.

I am thankful for my health.  I have been completely healed from stage 4 cancer as well as from an infection in my leg that put me in the hospital for 8 days with level 10 pain.  It was so great that my body just shook under it.  I was on 7 different antibodies at the same time just to save my leg and my life.  I didn’t return home for 31 days but even in the midst of all that, the Lord worked a miracle in healing and even the nurses were asking me about the Lord.  Just last week I got the good report that they could not find any problems with my heart, even though I am a diabetic, am overweight and have family history of heart issues.

I am thankful for God’s provision for life.  I haven’t always had all I wanted but I have always had what I needed and enough of my wants to keep me occupied.  I have seen God come through more times than I can remember.  From total strangers walking up and telling me that God directed them to give money to me; to boxes of groceries when I was totally out; to a school changing their written policy to open the way for me to enter that school, etc.  This walk of faith has been the most exciting venture that I could ever have imagined.

I am thankful for God’s unspeakable gift in the Holy Spirit who teaches me, guides me, comforts me, and enables me to do the will of God.  I cannot live up to His standards but the Holy Spirit enables me to walk according to His will.  Philippians 2:13 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.

I am thankful that I was blessed to make the mission trip to China and see the underground church at work.  They were an inspiration to me in many ways.  Faithfulness under fire may be an apt description.  I am thankful for God’s protection and the prayers of so many around the globe and was able to return home safely.

The list goes on and on.  I am indeed a blessed man.  My prayer for you is that the Lord will watch over you and bless you as you follow Him by faith.

 

Decay

Wash your hands and say your prayers, cause’ Jesus and germs are everywhere.

I was at my son’s home earlier this week and he has the above statement framed in their kitchen.  I’ve read it many times before and could just hear my mother giving us kids those instructions.

As I thought on the slogan and its meaning, I began thinking about the basic things that we do that regulate our lives in this world.  I thought about how things are in a constant state of decay.  Food will spoil when left out; metals will rust; soil will erode; everything living dies; wood rots; and everything ages.  These are all forms of decay.  The Bible states that “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.”  (Matthew 24:35,Mark 13:31, Luke 21:33)  That is when I noticed the one thing in this world that was constant, was the Scriptures.  Even though change is the order for this world that we presently live in, it will not be so in eternity.

In Eternity there is no decay or spoilage.  This lead me to several thoughts on what will it be like after this life.  In these three verses we catch a glimpse of eternity.  The concept of an eternal existence means that there is no change.  Nothing ages, or rusts, or spoils, or dies, or rots or ages.  These changes that we collectively call decay are nonexistent in eternity.  That would also include changes of growth, maturing, transformation and learning.  What you are and have become when you die, is what you will remain when you enter eternity.  There is no second chance or purgatory as it is decided in this world by the choices that we make.

God never designed a place to send the people who reject him.  Hell or the Lake of Fire is the place that was prepared for the devil, his fallen angles, the beast, and the false prophet.  It is where those not found in the book of life go because they have rejected what God had prepared for them and there was no other place to go.  God doesn’t send us to hell, rather we are making that choice ourselves by our choosing to follow Christ or to rejecting Him.   That choice is made now while we are in the place where change is possible.  If we go to Hell, it is because we chose to reject God’s will to transform us into His image, likeness and dominion.

Seeing God Smile

On the evening of my last day in the city of my visit, we were returning to my room for the evening before my departure the next morning, and we noticed a particularly bright sunset so my translator took this picture.  We both commented on it being especially bright and beautiful.  It wasn’t until I got home and was working with the pictures that I had collected that I looked at it closer and it caused me to catch my breath.  Look at it closer at what you see and try to identify what I saw.  In the bright white I saw a dove with its wings outstretched.  I even saw its head and a portion of its tail.  It was as if the Lord was saying, “This is why I sent you here”.

I am not saying it really was a dove or even a perfect semblance of a dove.  Still, that is what it appeared to be to me and some others that have seen the picture.  It really doesn’t matter what you see, it was a blessing to us and so fitting a way to end the trip.

This wasn’t the only thing that evidenced God’s hand on us during this trip.  I had people from many places that let me know that they were praying for the trip on many levels and for many reasons.  Places like Maryland, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Texas.  Our home church and many others, friends, family and even strangers that just heard about it were praying.  It seemed to me that they all were trying to warn me about the dangers and I felt a little like the Apostle Paul when he was returning to Jerusalem and was warned about what he would face on three separate occasions. (Acts 21) His reply to them was (v. 13) (Paraphrased) ‘I know that, why do you want to weep and break my heart?  I am prepared to pay any price to honor the name of the Lord.  (simply, I am compelled to go.)  I knew what could happen but I did not fear it for it would have been a small price to pay for such an honor to go in His name.

I am happy to report that everything that happened on the trip was completely in His hands and under His control.  Every objective that I had hoped for was completed without incident. My heart was stretched; all my needs were provided for; I was received like royalty; my ability to handle the foods were more than satisfied; my energy never abated; I was busy the entire time I was there and saw the Lord alive and active in the lives of my brethren there in China.  It was more than apparent to me that I was beholding God at work because I was not directing what happened, nor was anyone else.  God had initiated the trip from the idea to go to supplying every need to bringing the results to fruition.  Truly a demonstration of the operation of faith, and then sealing it with His approval.  See what the Lord will do when we leave the driving to Him.

The Church in China

I am sharing some information today that is not common knowledge here in America but I feel it is important for us to see the actual situation with the Church in China.  I do not know what the actual number of believers there are in China and furthermore, I’m not sure that anyone knows.  I hear reports of 40-60 million; another source says over 100 million and still another source says that the number may exceed 300 million.  What ever the number it is great enough for the Chinese government to feel somewhat insecure because of the shear number.  To put it in perspective, China‘s 2018 population is 1.42 billion, based on United Nations projections.  If the number of Christians there is 100 million that means that one in 14 people in china is a Christian.

The church historically has flourished during persecution while it has grown apathetic during prosperous times.  The hunger there for Bible knowledge is far beyond what it is in America.  This example is common for the church there in China.  Most churches do not own property or their own worship building and meet in homes.  They do not have access to the outside church in  that printed documents are not allowed.  Christians are quizzed as to the content of their worship services.  Outside speakers are forbidden and training is almost non-existent.  Bibles have been available in most areas but even that is now being limited.  A somewhat typical picture would be that an individual may have to travel up to two hours to meet with other Christians that they felt safe with.  They would meet in a home, sit on a plastic stool for two or more hours, visit, share, eat and then travel up to two hours to get back home.  They would arrive quite early, maybe a half hour or more and spend much of the time praying until it starts.  They would stagger their times of arriving so that only one to three at a time would enter.  They would take extensive notes as fast as they can, which they would study as they could.  They may be interrogated about their activity at any time.  Should the authorities find anything that they had deemed illegal then they could be imprisoned and their properties confiscated.   Those not imprisoned would be “retrained” and forced to sign an affidavit saying they recant of their former profession and pledge allegiance to the government.  It is not illegal to be a Christian but you are forbidden to evangelize or propagate your belief.  Under this type of conditions the Church has grown to amazing proportions.  Yet in America the ratio of Christians is somewhere between 1 in 50 to 1 in 100.

Within the actual worship the spirit is one of a shared love.  There is an absence of greed but rather one of sharing and giving.  The hunger is real and deep and sincere.  They want the truth about God and are willing to pay the price for it.  The leadership is mostly untrained and inexperienced, yet they possess the ability to recognize the truth where they find it.  If you are real and have the truth of Christ, they will love you deeply, but if you are a fraud, they will not only recognize it but will also give you a wide birth.  Never have I seen a greater hunger or a deeper need than in China.   More later.

Customs

I knew that customs differ in other parts of the world but I did not know how much.  While I was in China, I had the opportunity to observe this first hand.

After our first session we were enjoying some food together and I noticed that there were different ones that would suddenly place additional food on my plate without me indicating in any way that I wanted more.  At first I thought that they were just excited to see an American and wanted to show special attention.  But then I noticed that there would be two or three bringing me more food at the same time and I began to wonder what was going on.  I would be eating my soup and someone would be pouring more soup into my bowl while I was eating it.  Another would peal an orange or open a fig, or add more meat.  I was getting full and I couldn’t keep up with their hospitality.  I said that I didn’t want any more but it kept coming.  I certainly didn’t want to offend anyone but I didn’t know how to stop the flow of food, either.

I was raised in a country setting in southern Missouri.  We were very poor and food was quite simple.  It was beans and taters for the most part.  Occasionally we would fry a chicken and if we got tired of the menu we could switch it around and have taters and beans.  In the summer we also added the garden veggies and rarely we would have beef or pork if one of the neighbors were butchering.  Because times were tough we didn’t waste anything and my parents taught us to always clean our plates.  It was the courtesy of the times to show your appreciation by eating everything.  The cleaner the plate the better.  I also taught my children to clean their plates.  The thought of wasting food was never entertained.

Then I went to China and learned that the custom there is quite different.  You show your host that you are full by simply to stop eating.  If you clean out your plate it means that you are still hungry so they put more on your plate.  I didn’t know that so I was trying to empty my plate and sending the wrong message.

I think that sometimes we study the Bible without knowing the customs and miss a lot of it’s meaning, in the same way I did by not knowing the customs and setting.  One of my tools in my library is a book titled, The Life and Times of Jesus, The Messiah” by Alfred Edersheim.  If you don’t have the book, I suggest that you try to get a copy.  It will help you to understand the customs of how it was in Jesus’ time and add meaning to such places as the Lord’s supper and many others.

 

Returning from China

Wow!  What a trip.  It took me 10 days to experience the trip so there is no way that I can share it in one or two short blogs.  I will try to keep my focus on what I share so that it is a complete and concise topic and will post them from time to time.  Also, I want to be considerate of the Christians in China so that they do not incur additional persecution from the forces that oppose them.  And finally, I do not want to misrepresent our Lord to the government as they have a responsibility to govern their country and I do not desire to inflict any conflict between them and our Lord or His people.

That being said I want to first say that I left here with one concept of who the Chinese are and came home with an all together different opinion.  I had envisioned that theirs was a country of poor living conditions and way behind in the cultural world.  In fact, their conditions are comparable to those in our country.  The streets are clean, the conveniences are modern, and  I found the people to be quite wonderful with much the same dreams as ours.  They were more than gracious and considerate, and they have many qualities that I wish were here as well.  They do not seem to value possessions the same as we do and are content with what they have.  For an example, they would travel for two hours or more to meet with people of like faith, then sit on a plastic kids stool for another two hours without fidgeting or complaining, another hour visiting and eating and another two =/- hours returning home. and do it again the next day.  They were not tardy and would spend their time praying while they waited for the time to start.  They were not problems to either the civil authority or each other.  They were not critical of others, but helpful.  They were model citizens.

They were hungry to know the truth but careful to reject error where ever they find it.  They were especially cautious about false religions.  In several way they were way ahead of many churches here where freedom and ease has made us dull of hearing and apathetic.  Daniel understood this truth and refused the king’s dainties to be free from greed and laziness.  This is probably why Christianity has always prospered under persecution and floundered under prosperity.

You rarely see a single family dwelling except on a rural area where farming and the like have historically had such dwellings.  From my room I looked out my window and could see three major construction sights of 6 to 12 buildings each one about 30 stories high.  There were also three more that were not in my view, just as close.

I came away with a huge respect for the Chinese people and they taught me a lot.  I went there to be a blessing but I came back the blessed.  More later.