We should all praise God for the miracle of life!
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Monday, November 28, 2011
Congo is a big country! By vehicle, motorcycle, airplane, and ferry boat, we have recently traveled from end to end of the Baptist areas of Congo, visiting hospitals in the mission network. One trip we took to the hospital at Sala, one of the most difficult to reach because you have to cross the Kwilu river by one of several ferries, and it’s sometimes a gamble to know which ferry is working!
We’d heard that lightning struck the solar light system at the hospital in Sala, we decided to make fixing that our project. Sala is the eastern most hospital in the Baptist area of Congo, a distance similar to Philadelphia from Pittsburgh only via challenging paved and sandy roads, no gas stations, and 17 rivers to cross; a long “explore” at best, into remote Congo.
Once our trip plans became known, others pitched-in to help out. Dr. Bill Clemmer (then still in Congo) had funds to purchase two replacement solar system batteries. Dr. Friedhelm, at Vanga, offered two solar controllers, one 15 amp, the other 30 amp to replace the failed 45 amp unit until a replacement from the US could be found, along with 10 new “LED” fluorescent-type lights he had on hand.
Preparations took a week. We organized buying batteries, cables, and kerosene (for refrigeration), and packed tools, water and other necessities for the trip. Tuesday, here in Kinshasa, the staff at our mission purchasing service loaded every free inch of space in the Landcruiser with freight for the work at Sala, the Vanga hospital, and the missionaries there because you get to Sala by way of Vanga. Wednesday we made the 350 mile trek to Vanga in 11 hours, the last 90 miles on dirt roads.
The next morning we headed 30 miles down the Kwilu river to Mikwi, where we hoped to find the ferry working. Sala should have only been another 3 hour drive from there, but we were delayed by a sand pit that even our 4 wheel drive could not manage.
Wayne and John, our driver, tried every tactic they knew, but the Landcruiser just dug deeper into the sand. We began to wonder if we would spend the night there. Out of what looked like nowhere, another jeep suddenly appeared, coming towards us. It turned out to be Mrs. Lala, former president of the Congo Baptist women, visiting churches in her native area around Sala. She was as surprised to see us as we were to see her. Her traveling companions wasted no time pitching in to help. In a few short minutes, using copper ground wire as an improvised rope, they pull us out . God works in awesome ways when you are doing God’s work. We do everything we know to prepare adequately, yet in the end, trust God’s providence and rejoice when God provides. That remote stretch of road probably has a vehicle pass once a week.
We received a royal welcome when we finally arrived. A huge crowd appeared singing and dancing to the music of a bamboo flute and elephant tusk horn band, traditional instruments in that area. Later that evening, while enjoying delicious food and the gracious hospitality of Dr. Miche’s and his wife Jeanty, we learned that the Sala hospital had received the gift of a new generator, but it leaked oil and would not run. That perked John’s curiosity. He does mechanics at Vanga, and only one month before received special training in Kinshasa for maintenance of this type of generator.
The next day, with different members of the hospital staff, we divided into work teams. Katherine did “medical supervision” (discussing problems, looking at records, giving encouragement), Wayne worked on the solar system and John eagerly put his knowledge and skills to work on the diesel generator. By noon Wayne had the solar system repaired with lights shining, John had the generator running, and Katherine had a good visit with the hospital team. Complete success!
The Mikwi ferry does not run after dark, giving us a 2 pm departure deadline. After a hearty but hasty meal and a final debriefing with community leaders, we headed back to Vanga, recognizing how much had been accomplished because God provided. But the story doesn’t end there. Three weeks later, a visiting pastor (Raymond Bunn) brought a new 45 amp controller. So Wayne and John made a follow up visit, this time by motorcycle, crossing the river at Vanga in canoes. The 6 hour trip by vehicle takes just two by motorcycle because you follow more direct foot paths. Upon arrival, while Wayne installed the replacement controller, John, pleased to see they’d kept the generator running, gave the staff a second lesson in generator maintenance,. By three pm, and another successful trip, they started back to Vanga. Canoes also stop crossing the river at dark.
Without prayers and support, we could not be in Congo to travel, encourage, come beside, and problem solve for the sake of the God’s Kingdom. You could be a partner for the next trip!
Written by Katherine Niles, American Baptist Missionary in the D.R. Congo
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Friends, a brick apartment house across from the church was on fire last night. Betsy and I saw the flames shooting above the building. We don't know how bad it is, or if anyone was hurt. I'll know more later in the day.
Please pray for our neighbors. This is not a happy Thanksgiving for them.
Peace, Pastor Bill
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
It turns out that the leaders of the Occupy Wall Street movement are anarchists. I recommend this article from The New Yorker if you wish to find out who they are and what they are all about. The anarchist movement does not have a good history in this country. An anarchist killed President McKinley. Anarchists want to tear down the institutions of our nation. They have a vague picture of the people running the country, but I’ve not been able to figure out how they plan to do this without any organizational structure. Anarchists also want to get rid of capitalism. Good luck on that one. The Communists tried the same thing, and now they are the greediest capitalists on the planet. Oh well, it turns out that I am not one of the ’99 percent’. I wish to build up our world, not tear it down.
Jesus preached revolution. “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). But Jesus’ revolution was very different to the message preached by today’s revolutionaries. First, he did not support the tearing down of government institutions; “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:21). He was not interested in reorganizing society. Jesus was interested in reorganizing people’s hearts. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). Jesus wants to create a loving and supportive relationship with God in the hearts of everyone. Jesus wants to build us up with God at the center of our lives. And this process of building up does not happen in the world around us, it happens within us; “Nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21). And so Jesus came to change the world by changing us. The change starts inside of us and then spreads outward. Tearing down the structures of the world will not save the world. Building up the hearts of everyone with God’s love will.
The last few years I have felt a lot of anger towards our country’s institutions. And so the Occupy movement appeared very attractive at first. But now I’ve seen the bankruptcy of it. Only God’s love can save the world. Only God’s grace can repair the brokenness. Only God can build up all of the things that we have foolishly torn down.
God bless you,
Monday, November 21, 2011
My hobby is astronomy. I love to be outside feeling the wind on my face, listening to the night sounds and looking at God’s creation overhead. Of course, the looking at God’s creation part is difficult because of NJ light pollution. The light dome from the metropolitan area prevents me from seeing fainter objects like galaxies. So I have become a variable star astronomer. Because stars are focused points of light, rather than larger and more diffuse areas of light like galaxies, faint stars cut through the light pollution. I look at these faint little dots and guess their magnitude. Since they are variable stars, the magnitude changes all of the time, and I submit my guesswork to an organization that collects the data. Magnitude estimates from amateur astronomers worldwide are used to create light curves, which are studied by professional astronomers who look for patterns in the data. It’s all very mundane work, but it gets me outside and looking at the night sky. It also has me studying the evolution of stars and how these magnificent creations glorify God.
T Tauri stars are called eruptive variable stars. If our Sun is considered middle aged, these sun-like stars are pre-teens. They have not developed the convection currents that the Sun has to regulate heat throughout the gas envelope. They are also surrounded by clouds of gas and dust called accretion disks that help the stars gain in size. All of these conditions create extreme volatility in T Tauri stars. The heat builds up inside the star without a proper way of regulating it and they explode. The explosions are not big enough to destroy the star, but they are big enough to affect the surrounding accretion disk. If there is a planet in orbit with the beginnings of life on it, those creatures would be destroyed. The environment surrounding a T Tauri star is extremely hostile and so living things would have to wait until the star starts up the convection currents, gobbles up most of the accretion disk and settles down into a more mature phase, called the Main Sequence. Our Sun went through a T Tauri phase, and now we live in a nice quiet place in the universe where we can happily look through our telescopes and watch the fireworks happen in other parts of the cosmos.
Most scientists believe that it has taken 5 billion years to reach this nice quiet point in our Sun’s lifetime. Many Bible scholars can’t reconcile that timeline with the one found in the Old Testament. I say that we are too concerned about time. We are limited to living within a timeline, but God is not. “The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD is enthroned as King forever” (Psalm 29:10). God is eternal and God has no limits, “Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit” (Psalm 147:5). Since God is not limited by anything, God is not limited by time.
Because time is so important to us, we become blinded by it and cannot see the big picture. The famous passage from Ecclesiastes chapter 3:1 says; “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” The universe is created and shaped in God’s time. If God decrees that the Sun lives for 10 billion years, then that is the right amount of time for the Sun to exist. God sees and understands the big picture; we struggle to comprehend tiny pieces of it. Therefore, God knows what is best. It is often difficult for us to understand that.
The stars I measure, some of which are T Tauri stars, change over long periods of time. Variable star observation requires a lot of patience. But every once in a while, one of these stars erupt without any warning. Suddenly a star that can be barely seen in a telescope is bright enough to see without one. That is what makes the T Tauri stars magical. “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1) and they do this in God’s good time.
Friday, November 18, 2011
Thursday, November 17, 2011
I was reading an article in The Atlantic about the Oprah Winfry phenomenon. The article sketched out her rise from extreme poverty to queen of the cable TV world. One thing that jumped out at me was the author saying that her biggest theme was “Finding Your Voice”. The author says that telling your story is a powerful and effective tool in anyone’s arsenal. Today, I’d like to spend some time exploring this idea.
With the advent of mass communication, this idea of sharing our story with others has become huge. Books, Internet and Cable TV have created an industry that is making ordinary people with extraordinary stories into stars. We believe in a person who can tell a highly emotional real life story. There is something very compelling about the story actually occurring. Oprah has made a career of it and lots of people are trying to emulate her.
But I am not an expert on Oprah and the story telling phenomenon. I am an expert on the Bible. And I was interested in whether the Bible has anything to say about telling our personal stories. There are many powerful stories about the lives of real people in the Bible; Abraham, Moses, Joseph, Ruth, Esther, Jesus and Paul to name just a few. But Oprah promotes individuals sharing their stories. Does the Bible have first person accounts in it? Yes it does. Moses writes in the first person a few times. Jeremiah and Daniel write about their lives as well. But the most prolific biographical writer is the apostle Paul. His letters are chock full of personal details. Because his letters are addressed to whole groups of people in his churches, he must have had a good reason to put them in.
Like all of us, Paul has personal reasons for including personal details. That sounds obvious, but it needs to be said. He defends himself against attacks for receiving financial support (1 Cor. 9). He complains of people causing him grief (2 Cor. 1:12-24). He sends personal messages to friends and supporters (1 Cor. 16:5-18). These few examples make it obvious that Paul uses his letters to address strictly personal concerns that have a little or nothing to do with theology. But he also uses biographical material to lift up the ultimate goal of his life.
Paul uses his life stories to lift up God in the letters to his churches. One example of this is Paul giving a brief description of his call and telling us that it was by God’s grace he became a missionary, not by anything that he had done (1 Cor. 15:9-11). Paul talks about his sufferings and then points to God’s deliverance from those sufferings (2 Cor. 1:3-11). Paul says that through his faith in Jesus Christ, anything is possible in his life (Phil 4:13). Paul is like all of us, he talks about the things that weigh on his mind. But he wants us to focus on what is most important, our faith in God and the way God uses our faith to change us and to change the world.
The primary focus of Paul’s letters is upon our faith in God and upon God’s grace. Paul uses His Story to turn our hearts and minds to The Lord. I don’t believe that the modern concept of telling My Story to the masses is anywhere near the same thing. I think Oprah would say that she has a higher purpose for telling Her Story. She says that her purpose is to lift up women and to help them live a better life. However, since so much of Oprah’s story telling is connected to enriching her pocketbook, I think an argument can be made that the sharing of Her Story is purely for commercial reasons. In the modern world of book selling and cable TV, it’s hard to tell where vision stops and consumerism starts.
Conversely, a true vision from God is not interested in numbers of viewers or dollars in the cash register. We serve God by serving God’s children. And we do this without thought of earthly reward. “What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge” (1 Cor. 9:18). Our efforts, whatever they may be, should be done to glorify God, our ultimate goal. So sharing your story is a good thing. Just make sure you do it for the right reason.
God Bless You,
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
I visited with my Father the other day. Alzheimer’s is causing his personality to fade away. It’s been a long sad journey. He barely remembers me, and he doesn’t remember his grandchildren anymore. He does remember toy trains. He has been an avid collector of Lionel trains for his whole life. I sat and looked at pictures of trains with him during the visit. The next time I see him I’ll bring a fishing magazine. Fishing was his other passion. We’ll see if what he remembers about that.
Please pray for the victims and their families of Alzheimer’s. Pray that a cure will come soon.
Peace, Pastor Bill.
(Above a picture of my Dad, Donald Whitehead and my son Richard in better days)
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Monday, November 14, 2011
There are two things we're all about: Jesus and community.
Let's start with community. Being alone stinks. Everyone on the planet knows what it's like to be alone, and no one likes it. Sometimes even worse than being truly alone though, is being around a whole lot of people and still being alone. Ever been to a party where everyone was talking about the weather, the latest movies, or what they do on the weekends, but no one really cared about the people they were talking to? That's why at Cru we call ourselves
a real community.We don't want to fake it. We want to get into each other's lives — to really know, challenge, and help each other as friends. And we want to have a ton of fun doing it!
Friday, November 11, 2011
Which Thou has made by Thine almighty Word
And how the webb of life Thy wisdom guideth
And all creation feedeth at Thy board.
Then doth my soul burst forth in song of praise
Oh, great God
Oh, great God.
After serving in the Armed Forces, Mr. Hine was called to the mission field. For many years he served in Poland and Czechoslovakia. It was during missionary work in these countries that Mr. Hine composed many of the songs for which he’s well-known today.
Stuart K. Hine died in 1989.
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
I didn't think big storms hit Alaska. I know they have bad weather, but its the first time I have heard of a hurricane striking way up there. Pray for the people in the way of this gigantic storm.
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Tim Tebow continues to receive praise and complaints about his profession of faith in Jesus Christ. Before he was the lightning rod for NFL Christians, there was Kurt Warner. He got a lot of press, good and bad, when he thanked Jesus after winning the Superbowl. Listen to his testimony in the video above.
Here is a link to yet another story on Tim Tebow and his faith. I wish people would lay off the guy.
Monday, November 7, 2011
Christ Church is the oldest Protestant Church in the Middle East. It was completed in Jerusalem in 1849 and soon after became known as the "Jewish Protestant Church."
Christ Church is indeed unique. It was built for numerous reasons, but the foremost was that the founders of CMJ had a great love and concern for the Jewish people and wanted to share with them the Good News of Messiah Jesus. They also anticipated the Jewish return to the Land of Israel in fulfillment of what was understood to be Bible prophecy (long before the advent of Zionism) and wanted to be in a position to help that process. From the beginning, the message of CMJ has been to remind Christians of the great spiritual debt owed to the Jewish people. The Jewish symbols and Hebrew texts found in the church are reminders that our faith is built upon the foundation of God's promises to the Hebrew patriarchs and prophets and that His covenant purposes for Israel have not been canceled (Rom. 11).
Thursday, November 3, 2011
I know nothing about the Kardashian’s, except their names. And I don’t know anything about the recent events in their family, with the exception of the now infamous divorce. A Fairytale Wedding and 72 days later the marriage ends? What can I say; I hope they don’t try to sell marriage advice books.
Betsy and I have been married for 25 years and we are still very much in love and very happy. We have disagreements, but never had a knock down drag out fight. We apologize and patch things up quickly. And we like to spend time with each other and our children. So, I guess this is what a happy marriage looks like. There may be other couples who are happy for different reasons, but it works for us.
I have always wished that I could bottle our secret ingredient to a successful and long lasting relationship and sell it. I would feel a sense of satisfaction having helped millions of couples. I would also make a ton of cash, which doesn’t make a person unhappy. But I just haven’t been able to pin it down. Just what is the secret to a truly fairytale marriage?
Being a preacher means I am in the marrying people business. I get out my pony and ride up and down the circuit blessing nuptials and eating a lot of white frosted cake. I have given a lot of advice to couples and therefore I have prepared myself by reading lots of books on the subject. I have found them helpful, but lacking. There always seems to be something missing. Communication is good between couples, but it depends on the type of communication. Screaming matches don’t help. Loving gestures are great, but don’t do much to settle disputes. Problem solving and other strategies are all well and good, but there always seems to be something missing. My main problem is that even after the advice and counseling, people still break up. Sometimes the counseling works, and sometimes it doesn’t. I know too many couples who have dug in their heels and let their irreconcilable differences tear them apart.
All of these unhappy couples have caused me to consider once again what it is about my relationship with Betsy that has made us so successful. I think it comes down to our willingness to sacrifice for each other. The marriage vows say; “in sickness and in health”. Standing by our spouse when a disaster strikes is something that we all would agree upon. However, I think what is crucial is the willingness to sacrifice for the sake of our spouses every day, not just when something bad happens like a untimely illness.
Betsy and I have sacrificed for each other over and over again in our life together. She knows that when she needs something she can count on me. I know that I can count on her as well. Neither of us have given up our unique personalities or our little quirks. Instead, we have realized that making our spouse happy is just as important as making ourselves happy. And so we compromise a little here, and give a little there. Sometimes Betsy gets what she wants, sometimes I do. But we are both secure in the knowledge that we can count on the other no matter what. And that makes our relationship very secure.
I don’t know what wrecked the Kardashian marriage. It certainly isn’t my business to know. I do know this; happiness does not come from getting what I want all of the time. Happiness comes from giving as much as getting.
God bless you,
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
Betsy and I have been married for 25 years. We have three children. We are happy, and our kids are happy. We have managed to be happy through a life of selfless commitment, endless compromises and occasional sacrifice. Living for others is a life worth living. I pray that everyone will find this kind of happiness. Pastor Bill.
Read more on the Meaning of Marriage…
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
Today is All Saints Day, a traditional Christian holiday that remembers the great people who have left our world. Today we remember that remarkable Christian, Martin Luther.
Martin Luther was an Augustinian Monk and professor at Wittenberg College in 1400’s Germany. He became fed up with the abuses occurring within the Catholic Church at that time. His main complaint was the practice of Papal Indulgences, the idea that the good deeds of the saints could be exchanged for cash as a guarantee of a heavenly afterlife. Luther argued that only through the grace and mercy of God can we reach the heavenly throne. For his efforts he was excommunicated and given a death sentence. Fortunately for him a supportive German prince protected him and he continued to teach at Wittenberg until his death.
By the way, Papal Indulgences still exist. Read more here…