All aboard for Tarshish!

26 08 2020

Some days are sloppy. Like yesterday.

I tried to concentrate on some Bible reflection and came to the end of the book of Jonah. He was operating under the “great commission” of his era which promised that Abram’s lineage would be blessed so as to be a blessing to every other nation (Genesis 12:1-4).

But Jonah could not imagine God really wanting to bless the Ninevites — those ruthless, godless barbarians, with their arrogant kings and imperialistic intentions. There was no way Jonah was going to go out of his way to show mercy to people who didn’t deserve or desire it. So he boarded a ship bound for Tarshish.

We don’t know exactly where Tarshish was, but we know precisely what it represented: “away from the presence of the Lord” (Jonah 1:3).

Tarshish is any place other than where God calls you to go.

Skip to the end of the Jonah chronicle. Clearly, Jonah’s direction was changed by a great fish, but even after a great revival in Nineveh, the prophet’s heart had not changed.

Even after Nineveh repented, Jonah “re-pouted.” He told God: This is why I fled to Tarshish, “for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness” (Jonah 4:2).

If you are like me, there are some people more deserving of punishment than mercy. Like Jonah, we have a hard time thinking kindly of them.

Do you recall how God responded to Jonah? “Is it right for you to be angry?”

Sure is, said Jonah, “it is right for me to be angry, even to death” (4:9).

To which God replied, “should I not pity Nineveh?”

In other words, God has the right to show mercy to whomever He chooses, whether we like it or not.

Like Jonah, I lack mercy. I sometimes feel it my right to be angry at what some people do and say. I can’t understand how God puts up with their thinking!


Yesterday, while I was pondering this story, I got a video call from my friend who lives in the Middle East with his family. He works with a Christian ministry in a Muslim country. He and the local director had visited the Minister of Culture and Youth to request permission to distribute Christian literature in a refugee camp. My friend was really excited to meet cabinet officers. The press and photographers were on hand to document the occasion for the newspapers. I rejoiced with my friend over their successful day.

Then I said to him: “This is crazy, and a bit convicting. I can walk down my street and give Christian literature to anyone I meet. I can make friends with someone from the Muslim country you live in, and can actually read the Bible with them. And I don’t need approval from a cabinet minister to do so.”

Then last night Aimee and I took a stroll around our neighborhood as we occasionally do. We took two encouragement cards to neighbors going through hard times. Then we walked over to the apartments nearby where people from several nations live. We stopped and talked to some kids. Said hello to a cluster of women wearing burkas. But none of the adults we’ve met before were outdoors. So we returned home, having left behind a few smiles, waves, and our presence.


This reflection doesn’t really have a clear theme. But I understand Jonah’s urge to flee to Tarshish. I identify with the desire to stay on the couch rather than cross over to the other neighborhood.

And I see that God pays attention even on sloppy days.





Is God Stirring Your Heart?

15 06 2020

I have had a few conversations with people who have not experienced very much frustration with the shelter-in-place restrictions. Introverts rather love it. But there is another group that have adapted well — those who had already chosen a lifestyle of simplicity, family together, sacrifice, and so forth.

Is that you?

A question arose in me for the first time:

>>>Just as a sacrificial lifestyle has prepared many for pandemic restrictions, is God using those same restrictions to prepare believers for a more sacrificial lifestyle?

As always,

  • Satan intends to spread evil.
  • The fallen condition of humanity has brought discrimination and violence.
  • Disease has threatened with sickness and death.
  • But God is on the move to take these evils and turn them into good.

>>Could it be that one of those good outcomes is the stirring of hearts for more devoted service for our King?

Is this a time to make a significant change of direction? Is God tapping you on the shoulder to invest the rest of your life in His Kingdom venture?

This has happened to me twice.

As a 19-year-old student at Biola University, my career ambition was to be an architect. But God confronted me with the challenge to let my calling as a disciple change my occupational goal. So I altered my direction and majored in Bible and went on to Dallas Seminary.

Later when I was 36, I was pastoring a wonderful church in Arcadia, California. I loved the people and, believe it or not, they loved me and my family. But that tap on the shoulder came again. I knew that 100 pastors would love to assume my role as senior pastor of a growing and unified church. But I was challenged by a missionary friend with the fact that few were willing to go to Africa. So we began to pray and over a few months’ time, we were not only willing to go, we felt we would have missed a grand adventure of faith if we didn’t. So off to Kenya for ten years we went.

“For such a time as this”

You may be in precisely the place God wants you to be and stay. You are already “on mission” right where you are. If that’s the case, stay put and stick with it.

Or you may be out of work and struggling to make ends meet. You may be fighting a health battle that has come your way, and that is your full-time assignment. You may be happy to have a job, any job, and it is taking everything you have. Your mission is to be faithful and content right where you are.

But I suspect that this email is going to land in the inbox of someone who is feeling God’s tap on the shoulder.

You have a good example to follow.

A beautiful Israeli woman named Esther found herself in Persia during a time of global upheaval. Her people were subjugated, yet she was selected as queen of Persia. Through a series of conniving events, a genocide of all Jews was ordered. Only the king could rescind the decree, and only Queen Esther could possibly change her husband’s mind. Esther’s uncle asked her to go uninvited before the king, even though it meant her very life was at risk.

In summoning Esther to this highest of callings, her uncle said,

“Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14b).

Esther’s willingness to see herself as a part of God’s greater plan gave her courage to make a life-altering decision. She went to the king, and God brought deliverance to her people and judgment on wicked perpetrators.

Just as I wrote earlier that we are in an “evil day,” I also believe we are in a day of opportunity. And it is urgent. I cannot tell you how many people have told me they wish they had heeded a call they had from God earlier in life. But they held back and failed to listen, share, and pursue. And other concerns swallowed up their calling.

So I ask you to consider:
>>Is there anyone else who could do your job?
>>What is the more difficult work that few are willing to tackle?
>>If you don’t take the challenge now, when will you?

>>And if you put it off much longer, will you look back on your life and wonder what might have been?

Average people want to return to what was. Extraordinary people want to see what could be.

Sometimes courage shows up in helping others see their place in history, like Mordecai did for Esther. Parents and grandparents are one of the biggest obstacles to young families fulfilling their bold callings. Your greatest sacrifice may be to give permission and blessing. To mentor, pray, give, and release. It’s not too late. Ten affirming words from you could unlock a young dream.

I have not specified kinds of ministry in this reflection. A missional lifestyle is possible and needed on the street where you live and on the continent far away. That’s why we need prayer and godly counsel to gain clarity. That’s why we pay attention to God-given burdens and passions. That’s why we heed the “advice” of physical health, family needs, experiences and competencies. That’s why we heed the signs of our times, and notice new stirrings.

Who knows whether you are reading this today, for such a time as this.





Walking in the Armor of God

11 06 2020

These days there is an upsurge of interest and effort for justice, especially on behalf of African-Americans. Social media, protest marches, and charitable initiatives are focused on bringing change in society — much needed change. I support efforts to bring greater fairness and opportunity to all.

But what if the impossible happened? What if every American had equal income and opportunity? What if there were no urban poor or chronic poverty? Would we then have the just and peaceful society all long for? I don’t think so. 

All the equal opportunity initiatives imaginable would not rid society of prejudice and clinging to privilege. Why? Because our propensity for sin and selfishness would still reside within our nature.

Where must we do the work that can bring real change?

In our Ephesian study, we’ve seen that our real enemy is not other people but the evil forces which inflame wickedness. We’ve looked at each of the elements of the armor of God. All seven elements bring in the good kingdom of Jesus and maintain His ultimate authority over the kingdom of evil.

The armor of God tells us what He is like.
He sends us out to promote truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, the Word of God. Ours is a God who wants the best for the world and all who dwell on it.

What would the armor of Satan look like and what kind of world are his soldiers fighting to create? Falsehood, wickedness, violence, shame, eternal lostness, and lies.

How vital that we put on the whole armor of God to withstand this destructive strategy of the evil one! 

But how do we actually walk out this amazing armor teaching?
With all the imagery about shields, kingdom, swords, principalities, and so on, how do we actually suit up in Jesus’ victory and engage in His battle?

Is this something best left to expert practitioners in spiritual warfare prayer — who gather in a room with someone oppressed by evil and exorcise the demons? I don’t think so. Paul’s epistle seems to teach the armor of God as knowledge needed by common believers.

I believe it is perfectly okay and helpful to begin each day by putting on the armor of God in prayer. For example, “Lord, I want to put on truth like a belt today. As I go through the day, help me to speak only true words. Help me recognize falsehood and reject it.”

That’s a great way to pray through all the elements of the armor, But there is a lot more to living this out. 

Deeds, Words, Thoughts, Heart, God

Let’s start with actions and work back to where actions ultimately come from. Proceeding backwards…

5. Finally, DEEDS.  Just do it. That is, act out the elements of the armor. Go through your day and tell the truth. Do righteous, holy things. Bring peace. Have faith. Rejoice in your salvation. Study and share God’s Word. Live obediently to all Jesus commanded.

4. Before deeds, watch your WORDS.  Your good deeds can be hijacked by evil words. So speak as God would want you to speak. Zip your lip unless the words are pure, right, and honorable.

3. Before that, direct your THOUGHTS.  Your words follow your thoughts. If you don’t think it, you likely won’t say it. In prayer as a lifestyle, renew your mind. Wicked, lustful thoughts will become strangers to us.

2. Before that, stir your HEART.  The mind won’t be renewed in holiness unless the heart longs for our holy God. Your prayer life can take you into yearning for God. As your longing and love for God increases, your heart will change. Your desire for worldly things will decrease. The rulers of this world will be forced to let go of you.

1. First and foremost, acknowledge GOD as your source.  You and I are unable to truly desire God ourselves. We can only long for Him in response to His love for us. No one seeks God. We’re too self-centered. So we must begin with openness to believe that God is, and receive whatever love He shows us. It all starts with God.

Clearly, putting on the armor of God is not an optional accessory for a few believers. Rather, it is the essential Christian life portrayed in a way that reveals the wicked forces which want us all to fail.

Let’s pursue a lifestyle of prayer which proceeds from God, heart, thoughts, words, to deeds.Walking in the armor starts with the heart that incessantly prays,

“Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

“Lord, I know you are here. I believe You see me. Draw me near to Your side and give me deeper longing for You.”





Global business of humanitarian aid

16 01 2017

I am watching a program on Netflix called POVERTY, INC. This excellent documentary seeks to demonstrate how the humanitarian aid industry has, in effect, become a global business which benefits the donor who possesses the power, while stripping motivation from the people who grow dependent on aid from outside. I recommend you view this program.

At minute 42, the show describes a “ladder” out of poverty, the steps of which empower people locked in poverty to gain the confidence to climb out of chronic poverty. These “steps” are:

  1. Legal protection from theft and violence
  2. Justice in the courts
  3. Legal title to one’s land
  4. Freedom to start and register a business
  5. Links to wider circles of exchange

The program argues that the successful effort to strengthen Europe after World War II (called the Marshall Plan) has not had this strengthening effect in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Needed aid after natural disasters has turned into “unnatural disasters” wherein aid agencies overstay the crisis and create dependency. Why work hard to develop local initiatives when the market is flooded with foods and goods from outside for free?

What is needed, purports POVERTY,INC., is for outside groups to help reconstruct the ladder. I recall hearing John Perkins comment on the oft-repeated analogy of the fishing pole. He said that it is better to teach a man to fish with his own pole than to continually give the man fish. But, Perkins added, he must also have access to the pond.

Are their agencies which, rather than perpetually handing out aid, are empowering local people by building the ladder?

What can one person do to contribute toward a solution instead of ignorantly perpetuating the problem?

(photocredit: WPphotosmart.

Poverty, Inc. website





The church called “Community Dinners”

5 11 2016

The church formerly called Westminster Community Church has changed its name to “Community Dinners.”

I celebrate their motive — to live out their community life in a way Jesus would.

I admire their innovation — leaving their building and the time, energy, and expense it consumed, and becoming a group that congregated in various locations around northern Seattle.

I love their practicality — serving dinners to any who will come, planning to build affordable housing, offering skills training all in Jesus’ name.

For those who are worn out on the term “missional” read their story here and be encouraged as they seek to be just that.