The good deeds have always been there, but they were far more visible across the U.S. on October 1 than on any other day so far in the short fifteen year history of God’s modern-day movement.
September 11th is about relationships. It has brought out the worst and the best in them. How could one group of people hate another group so much that they would plan and scheme for years and ultimately throw away their own lives to create as much havoc and destruction as possible? The answer is relationships, or rather the lack of them. What causes a nation to rally around 4,000 victims and their families, whom they have never met, to contribute time, money, blood, supplies, letters and prayers? The answer is relationships. God intends for hard times to bring out the best in us. Paul wrote in Romans 5:3-4, “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” The worst kind of suffering is suffering alone. God created us to be community; that is why he said that it is not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). He has put into us a sense of community, an intuitive drive to care for the needs of one another. Satan and his demons devote themselves to destroying that sense and putting hate and mistrust in its place. Thus we saw the fruits of both God and Satan on September 11th.
I like hugs. I never get enough of them. I like to fellowship other disciples – partly because of the many hugs. There is some- thing about another person putting his/her arm(s) around me that makes me feel good. It is not sexual; it is an expression of specialness. Touch is a very special human sense. It can communicate a tremendous range of emotions, from the anger of a slap to the elation of a “high-five” to the compassion of a pat to the love of a caress. A hug is different than a handshake. A handshake is a polite courtesy that preserves one’s personal space. A hug is a communication of warmth, openness and caring where the barriers are let down. I like hugs
The last month has been a third-world whirlwind. I am sitting in the crowded airport in Johannesburg, South Africa waiting to board a plane for home. A few hours ago I was walking down the main street of Harare, Zimbabwe listening to Christmas music coming from the many stores. There was even a Santa Claus with a tattered red outfit and a lopsided white cotton beard. Just three weeks before, Gloria and I were among the sick, the poor and the wounded in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Dreams come in many forms in the third world. Right now I am dreaming of getting home to Gloria, since these last nine days are our longest time apart in 37 years of marriage. I am dreaming of having our kids and grandkids home for Christmas. While very important to me, this is insignificant compared to the desperate dreams of so many in Cambodia, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Unemployment is rampant – over 40% in Harare. Real starvation faces 25% of Zimbabwe’s population. The AIDS epidemic is exploding in all three nations. Cambodia is the hardest hit in all of Asia. Thirty-two percent of Zimbabwe is HIV-positive. South Africa may lose a million people to the epidemic. I dream of a family reunited. Millions dream of a job, a full stomach and living to see another Christmas
Someone has said that no amount of success can make up for failure at home. All disciples dream that their children will grow up to love God and serve him with all of their hearts – that they have DEEP IMPACT. The promise of God contained in Proverbs 22:6 brings us great comfort. Yet a vitally important condition precedes that promise: “Train a child in the way he should go.” Experience shows us that this is much easier said than done. A quick scan of God’s powerful leaders of the Old Testament looks like a who’s who of parental failure. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Aaron, Gideon, Eli, Samuel, David, Solomon, Hezekiah and Josiah all had at least one child who was not faithful to God. What is the problem?
Training, or lack of it, is the problem. Anyone successful in a sport understands training. It requires commitment. It requires discipline. It requires focus. It requires time. All the great men mentioned above made major contributions to God’s Kingdom, but somehow did not pour enough of themselves into the family. Too often today we are caught in a struggle between family and ministry. We can fail to realize that family is not supposed to be in competition with ministry. Rather, it should be the most important part of ministry. God emphasized the importance
of bringing up our children to be faithful disciples when he made it a condition for being an elder in his church. Paul, writing about elders in 1 Timothy 3:5, says, “If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?” It is all too common in raising children, just as it is in marriage, to think that merely being a disciple will assure success. Not true. All of God’s promises have conditions …
I have a T-shirt that I like to wear; it is a T-shirt for disciples. On the back are these words: “If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much room!” Jesus lived his 33 years as far out on the edge as it is possible to get. And he calls each of us to follow him out there. “Normal” people do not want to get close to the edge. It is not safe there, and it certainly is not comfortable. But “normal” people don’t change things. They stay in the middle of the crowd, and they get pushed in whatever direction the crowd happens to be moving. They don’t have much impact on the world. Jesus had impact wherever he went, and his disciples do, too. That is what happens out on the edge. Jesus always has an incredible effect on the crowd when it stops long enough to listen to him. In Mark 4:1, Jesus drew the people to the edge of the water to hear him and be changed by him.
Aren’t you thankful to be out of the crowd and out on the edge? Aren’t you thankful to be in the Kingdom of God? Aren’t you glad that you are not “normal” by the world’s standards any
more? A few weeks ago Gloria and I, together with Bob and Pat Gempel, leaders of HOPE worldwide, were in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. We were there to celebrate the first anniversary of the King
Sihanouk HOPE Hospital and to preach to the incredible Phnom Penh Church of Christ. It probably had the most personal impact of any trip we have ever taken. Cambodia is a beautiful country with beautiful people. But every citizen there has lived through unfathomable suffering. Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge army tortured, starved and killed nearly three million people, one third of the population, in the late 1970s.
The world spotlight has shined on the lives of women – two in particular – with the tragic, untimely death of Princess Diana and a short time later, the passing of Mother Teresa. The obvious impact these women had on the world was poignantly displayed as huge crowds came with flowers, notes and tears to express their grief and admiration. Each in her own way, they exemplified what one woman can do for the poor and hurting people in the world.
We all need role models – heroes to call us higher. This issue of LA Story gives many real-life examples of courageous women in God’s Kingdom whose lives will inspire you to use the talents, situations and circumstances of your life to fulfill God’s purpose. What one woman with God can do is evidenced in the individual accounts and comments from sisters around the world. For me personally, the women World Sector Leaders have long been some of the most influential in shaping my life and ministry. In the first few years of the Movement, God used Elena Garcia-McKean and Pat Gempel as a powerful team to train these women and to lay the foundation for an ever-growing women’s ministry. Elena’s leadership of the women in the Kingdom is characterized by her strong compassion and depth of conviction for the women to be their best for God. God has used Pat’s “make it happen” mindset and her heart for people to help the poor and care for the sick and orphans through HOPE worldwide. I am inspired by Lynne Green learning Cantonese and giving her heart so completely to the women of China. I am encouraged to overcome as I see Donna Lamb and Erica Kim rising above health problems and hardships. Space limits my mentioning each of these special women, but read their comments in this issue and be called higher. No matter the occupation or role – one woman makes a difference!
Life does not end after 50, or 60, or 70, or… So much of age is in the mind and heart. I have been through the black balloons and graveyard humor of my 40th birthday and of my 50th. But I don’t feel much older than I did at my 20th or 30th. Last week one of the evangelists here in LA referred to all of us over the age of 55 as the “elderly.” At 56, I definitely do not feel “elderly.” And I told him so! In this issue of LA Story, called “FEARLESS,” I actually get to write about people who are older than I am, disciples who are over 65 years of age.
In our American society, people plan for retirement at 65. Retirement is designed to be a time of leisure – golf, fishing, travel – or whatever else appeals to you once you are beyond your “productive” years. To most, retirement is the state of no longer doing anything that is useful. Somewhere I read that the average person who retires at age 65 will be dead in 18 months if he/she does not have a dream to keep them going.
Whether we are old or young, sick or healthy, married or single, poor or rich, uneducated or educated, God wants all that we have and are.
Things are so different in God’s Kingdom! We don’t live by the world’s timetable. Our usefulness is not age-dependent. Caleb is a role model of what disciples ought to be. After spending 40 years wandering in the wilderness that killed off all of the unfaithful Israelites, he was ready at age 85 to drive out the giants of the land and claim God’s inheritance. As has been humorously stated from time to time, disciples don’t retire, they just retread and keep on rolling.