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This Is Family

A big question swirling around this week is, how is Health Together going. Well, the simple answer seems to be that it is going very well. Brooke Adams, Hannah Nachef and Kara Ing (she’s led worship here a couple of times and is a good college friend of Hannah’s) are in Bombo this morning. The nurse of the group, Laura Tice, leaves Monday to oversee the actual training portion of the trip. But here’s a taste of what God is doing in Bombo just this week. I’m editing from Brooke’s Thursday blog post.

Today was day one in Bombo. We arrived at Bombo Pentecostal Church and quickly began Health Together activities. Our first meeting of the day was with Life Medical Staff. Dr. Henry came from medical school to meet with the Health Together team comprised of our American group as well as Life Medical Clinic’s staff. The Life Medical Centre (LMC) staff has done a lot of work to prepare for this project. They are rallying volunteers, getting local official approval, and providing critical insight into how to most effectively increase LMC outreach and health education efforts.

Dr. Henry and Dr. Alex provided extensive insight in to the functions of Life Medical throughout the year. This was a highly beneficial conversation as we spoke face-to-face to refine the plan to achieve the goals of Health Together. The Life Medical team cares deeply for Bombo and is working hard to promote sustained health of their community. After finalizing a plan for the coming weeks, we met with Alex and Millie to discuss the outcomes of the conversation with the clinic, determine next steps for the health education at Donela schools and implementation of the feminine hygiene training at the Life Homes.

It was a day for honest and deep conversation.

Between meetings we were standing outside in the shade while it was lunch time for the school. Many children came up to greet me with the standard, “Good afternoon” and a hug. Different church staff and members greeted us with joy. Millie introduced me to a teacher at Donela and said, “Do you know Brooke?” And she replied, “Yes, I know Brooke, she is an African!” It always feels like coming home when I come to Bombo. Often throughout the day people thanked me for returning, saying it means so much when I come back again.

My reply is always, this is family. Therefore, I believe in this project, because those involved in Bombo are family. I have served alongside them for the past three years at the clinic and continue to serve alongside them in this project. They are the ones telling us of the needs, the factors contributing to poor health, and expressing hope things will continue to improve. Someone asked me why this, why a month of exhausting unpaid work and my response was simple: I have seen and heard from my friends in Uganda the disparities in healthcare and so I must do something.

“It will succeed,” says Henry. I pray it does.

As do we all, Brooke. As do we all.

Health Together

This afternoon we send off two of our own to Uganda. We begin a step which has been a long time coming. As we get serious about planning for the 12th medical mission in Bombo, we launch something new. Something with huge potential for change, because we have learned something over this last decade.

Health education is a huge need in Bombo and in the month ahead we will discover the scope of that need. We are sending a team over to assess the level of health education in the Bombo community. They have put together a survey which will be conducted by a rather large team in about a week. And then, they’ve put together some educational materials to teach the people how to teach each other about hypertension and feminine hygiene. This is our pilot program.  It’s an experiment. It’s not all that different from that first medical mission in 2008.

This last decade in Uganda has been a huge learning curve for us as a church family. And your support along the way has been what’s kept this adventure moving forward. That first year, I think we permanently damaged Karen Garland’s fingers as she manually took all the blood pressure measurements. She must have squeezed that bulb thousands of times, which wears the skin off your fingers. It was quite painful by the end of the week. Last year, we had probably 10 automatic sphygmomanometers (see, even I learned something).

We pulled off that first clinic in one space. Triage alone now has a couple of tents. The doctors have spread out over six large classrooms. The lab and vision have their own rooms. It’s quite a production — managed by the church in Bombo. Not us.

The clinic has grown in its sophistication. It has grown in the specialties offered. But through all this growth the long-term impact will be dramatically increased as we pursue this new venture, Health Together. And that begins when that flight takes off this afternoon.

We are still doing the annual clinic. It is still all about relationships. It is still all about the Gospel. But it is also about teaching them to make long-term adjustments in diet and exercise that will help shrink the patient load at annual clinic (in a good way).

Of course, at this point, it will all become about compliance, right? Which is exactly your issue each doctor visit. Will we do what the doctor tells us to do? Does he really know best? Compliance. Ask any doctor and that’s the big challenge with any patient.

Ask any spiritual leader, well, even ask the Chief Shepherd. Compliance is a big issue. Are we willing to listen to the Shepherd and do what He says? But spiritually, we want a deeper motivation to our compliance. We want our love for Jesus to motivate us. The goal is not just to legalistically do stuff, but to teach our senses to discern between good and evil. To grow up in Christ.  To please Him in everything. That is no easy task.

Health Together is no easy task either. But we really don’t have much of a choice. Lives are at stake. As is eternity.

Prayers We Have No Business Praying

This morning marks the end of our messages in the 28 Days of Prayer campaign. I really am hoping that you have enjoyed this month. I am praying that God has challenged us all as we prayed through a few of the Psalms. It doesn’t matter if you get through all 28 this month, what matters is if you used some of your time this month to connect with God on a deeper and more intimate level.

One of the things I have been thinking about this month (but it never made it into a sermon) was whether we ask God for things we really have no right to ask?  Do you think so?  Along those lines, Tony Campolo tells a story.

He was a guest speaker at a mission rally, when he was asked to lead in prayer for a missionary doctor the group supported. The goal of the prayer? That God might provide the $5,000 urgently needed for the medical center the doctor ran. We can relate, right?

That sounds like a legitimate prayer request. But Tony refused. He would not lead in that prayer. Sometimes I wish I had his guts. But why did he refuse?

Tony refused to lead in that prayer because he knew his audience was made up of people who were materially prosperous. So, he said he would pray only after everyone in the room gave to the project the money they had on them that day. The audience were stunned, but when Tony started emptying his pockets they knew he was serious. After some hesitation, everyone started following suit. The prayer of request soon became a prayer of thanksgiving, for by the end of the giving they had collected $8,000, much more than was needed in the first place!

And I think Tony was correct. Why pray about something when the answer to that prayer is right there in front of you? Maybe we think it’s more spiritual to pray than to give, perhaps? Maybe we are using prayer as an announcement of a need? Maybe we think we’ve done our part if we’ve just prayed? Of course, prayer doesn’t really cost us anything, where stepping in to meet a need might cost us some money or some gasoline in the car or some time away from home.

If prayer could lead us to action, I’m all for it. But to stand up in front of a prosperous group of people and pray that a financial need be met without the challenge to join in and help meet that need…seems to beg the question.

Are we praying about things that we could be used to be the very answer to that prayer? But we either don’t think about it or we don’t want to sacrifice to bring about that answer to prayer. There is a prayer we really have no business praying.

There are many questions surrounding the idea of prayer. But I want to encourage prayer, not discourage it. I hope these days have renewed your passion to pray. That you’ve been re-energized in your walk with God. May we now, more than ever, pray without ceasing. And may that lead to wonderful testimonies of thanksgiving to God.

The Empty Chair

How is your adventure in prayer coming along? I am praying that we all enjoy some fresh conversations with God this month. May we discover the joy in walking daily with Jesus in a way that will provide energy for life and space for faith. If you struggle with prayer, I hope you will enjoy talking with God this month. In that regard, I came across a story which I hope can be true for each of us. And, remind us of the nature of prayer itself.

A man’s daughter had asked the local pastor to come and pray with her father. When the pastor arrived, he found the man lying in bed with his head propped up on two pillows and an empty chair beside his bed. The pastor assumed that the old fellow had been informed of his visit. “I guess you were expecting me,” he said.

“No, who are you?”

“I’m the new associate at your local church,” the pastor replied. “When I saw the empty chair, I figured you knew I was going to show up.”

“Oh yeah, the chair,” said the bedridden man. “Would you mind closing the door?”

Puzzled, the pastor shut the door.

“I’ve never told anyone this, not even my daughter,” said the man. “But all of my life I have never known how to pray. At church, I used to hear the pastor talk about prayer, but it always went right over my head.”

“I abandoned any attempt at prayer,” the old man continued, “until one day about four years ago my best friend said to me, ‘Joe, prayer is just a simple matter of having a conversation with Jesus. Here’s what I suggest. Sit down on a chair, place an empty chair in front of you, and in faith see Jesus on the chair. It’s not spooky because he promised, “I’ll be with you always.” Then just speak to him and listen in the same way you’re doing with me right now.’”

“So, I tried it and I’ve liked it so much that I do it a couple of hours every day. I’m careful, though. If my daughter saw me talking to an empty chair, she’d either have a nervous breakdown or send me off to the funny farm.”

The pastor was deeply moved by the story and encouraged the old guy to continue the journey. Then he prayed with him and returned to the church.

Two nights later the daughter called to tell the pastor that her daddy had died that afternoon.

“Did he seem to die in peace?” he asked.

“Yes, when I left the house around 2 o’clock, he called me over to his bedside, told me one of his corny jokes, and kissed me on the cheek. When I got back from the store an hour later, I found him dead. But there was something strange. In fact, beyond strange, just weird. Apparently, just before Daddy died, he leaned over and rested his head on a chair beside the bed.”

May prayer be a natural part of our lives. Not a burden, but a conversation. May we be found in that conversation when God calls us home in a seamless transition.

Stay Focused in Prayer Life with This Tip

We are in the front half of our 28-day journey of prayer. What’s God been doing in your life? Sometimes prayer can be overwhelming because there is just so much about which we want and need to pray that we get distracted. We throw up our hands and don’t pray at all. Let me toss out an idea which I have found helpful to stay focused and thorough in my prayer life.

It starts with getting a small notebook or journal. My journal has maybe eight pages for prayer. I write the following titles on the top of each page. Daily. Monday. Tuesday. Wednesday. Thursday. Friday. Saturday. You can include Sunday if you’d like.

On the daily page, I list in the items which I want to pray for every single day. These are usually pressing needs that easily come to mind. A health crisis. Job need. Family. Close friend. Whatever. That page sees more change than the other pages, and notations of answered prayer are so encouraging. It often sees additions and deletions as God is at work.

And then I break up the other big areas that are close to my heart and list them on the other pages, each with a day of the week heading. So, for example, Monday are mostly for missionaries. Tuesdays are for the church staff. Extended family on another day. Specific people that have requested prayer on another. Maybe ministries on another. The government and its leaders on another. However, God leads. You see, I find praying for all those things on one day can make my prayer time just a shotgun approach. If I spread out my requests topically through the week, there is a flow to my prayer time. Also, the week takes on a rhythm that is refreshing and after a few weeks I know what to pray for on any given day — even when my prayer journal is not around. One day is focused on the worship of God.

And then, it’s always nice to keep a page reserved for answers to prayer. As I see God at work, I write down what He’s doing and how I’ve seen Him answer specific prayers. I’ve always found this a helpful tool to encourage daily prayer and to keep it fresh and my heart open to God’s leading.

The goal is to keep my time with God fresh and current. I’ve found that keeping a pattern to the weekly prayer time is one great way to do just that. Besides, it broadens my concerns beyond those in my immediate circle of influence. Prayer can get so focused on me and my life that I forget to cross the globe with God’s passion and my prayer.

I hope you are finding this month a refreshing emphasis on prayer. If you have a short (or long) story to tell, I strongly encourage you to go to the Lounge after worship and let us capture that story. We want God to get all the glory for what He is doing among us. May He refresh our lives as we concentrate on praying in February. See you at the throne! With or without a list!

Not Dominance – But Thoughtful Engagement

A video clip of a Virginia lawmaker saying she would allow abortions up until the moment of birth went viral this week. In the video, Kathy Tran (D-Fairfax) is asked if her proposed legislation, would let a woman ask for a late-term abortion for mental health reasons.

“Where it’s obvious that a woman is about to give birth… she has physical signs that she is about to give birth would that still be a point at which she could request an abortion if she was so certified? If she’s dilating?” asked House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah).  “My bill would allow that, yes,” answered Tran. Eventually.

Many people are rightly appalled by the callous disregard for the life of a soon-to-be born infant. But we should not be shocked. Allowing women to have an abortion for mental-health reasons anytime in the third trimester (28 weeks until birth) is already the law of the land in the United States.

I was angry. I struggle with the callousness toward life in the law. But how do we lovingly and gracefully argue against abortion? I came across this piece which does just that in 250 words or less.

Preach a biblical view of human value. But students in local churches also need to know how to make an essential pro-life argument and convey it to non-Christians. The basic shape of that argument looks like this:

Premise #1: It is wrong to intentionally kill innocent human beings.

Premise #2: Abortion intentionally kills innocent human beings.

Conclusion: Therefore, abortion is morally wrong.

Pro-life advocates defend that argument with science and philosophy. We argue from science that the unborn are distinct, living, and whole human beings. You didn’t come from an embryo; you once were an embryo.

We argue from philosophy that there is no relevant difference between you the embryo and you the adult that justifies killing you at that earlier stage of development. Differences of size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency are not good reasons for saying you could be killed then but not now.

Instead of arguing at a fever pitch, Christian students can be taught to ask thoughtful questions aimed at giving people something to think about. Two of my favorites are:

“Do you believe that each and every human being has an equal right to life, or do only some have it based on something none of us share equally?”

And…

“If it’s wrong to hurt people because of skin color or gender, why is it okay to hurt them because they are smaller, less developed, or in a different location?”

The goal of asking is not dominance but thoughtful engagement.  (Scott Klusendorf, president of Life Training Institute).

Thoughtful engagement. That is what we need and what has been modeled by the Savior. The lives of children hang in the balance.

28 Days of Prayer

This morning we turn a corner from the big picture of where we are headed as a church family to focus on our individual spiritual lives. In the month of February, we are going to talk about prayer. None of us need a guilt trip about prayer, that’s for sure. Maybe some motivation, but no guilt. In the month to come we have some easy memory verses to learn. We have a daily prayer guide to teach us to use the Psalms as a vehicle for prayer. We have four messages on prayer.

The month of February is all about spiritual growth. And spiritual growth is God’s will for your life. Babies are cute. Really cute. Kids are cute. Really cute. But a child that does not grow up is not cute. It’s tragic. There are a lot of old people who are spiritually and emotionally immature. They grew up without growing up. God wants us to all to grow up. He does not want us to stay as a baby in diapers. He wants you to be spiritually strong. He wants you to be a man of God or a woman of God.

And that is our focus over the 28 days of February. Growing up in God by growing deeper in our intimacy with God. Prayer is an important sign that our relationship with God is true and strong. Our desire to call upon the name of the Lord comes as God works in us, and so when we pray to Him with sincerity, acknowledging our sins and hoping in His mercy, we demonstrate that we remain in His hand.

Will you draw near to Jesus in February? Don’t let life’s daily struggles keep you from drawing near to God. Let prayer build your hope to the future God has for you. In asking Him to be with us and meet our needs, we show our confidence that the best is yet to come.

Oswald Chambers puts it this way: Prayer is not a normal part of the life of the natural man. We hear it said that a person’s life will suffer if he doesn’t pray, but I question that. What will suffer is the life of the Son of God in him, which is nourished not by food, but by prayer. The problem is that no one will ever really pray until he is at his wits’ end. When a person is at his wits’ end, it no longer seems to be a cowardly thing to pray; in fact, it is the only way he can get in touch with the truth and the reality of God Himself. Be yourself before God and present Him with your problems— the very things that have brought you to your wits’ end. But as long as you think you are self-sufficient, you do not need to ask God for anything.

May we humble ourselves before God in February. My prayer is not so much that we see a lot of changes externally, but that we will see God at work within us. That’s just as much a miracle of prayer as anything else. Let us get a fresh glimpse of what God is doing.

Stop, Think It Over

Tuesday marks 46 years since the passage of Roe v Wade, which made abortion-on-demand the law of the land. This year also marks the 45 years since what is arguably the most courageous act in pop culture history.

In the early 1970s, the Texas-born Jim Seals and Dash Crofts were at the peak of their popularity. Their 1972 album “Summer Breeze” reached number seven on the Billboard album charts. The 1973 follow-up, “Diamond Girl,” did even better, peaking at number four.  The record company was thrilled and so were fans. Both were looking forward to what was next from Seals and Croft.

Lana Day Bogan, wife of the duo’s recording engineer and longtime friend Joe Bogan, had seen a television documentary on abortion and was moved to write a poem, from the point of view of the baby. Seals, at Lana’s suggestion, put it to music. It opened with the lines “Oh little baby, you’ll never cry, nor will you hear a sweet lullaby.” The result was the song “Unborn Child,” which also became the name of their new album.

The song opens gently, but depicts the reality of abortion. The unborn child is “a tiny bud that grows in the womb only to be crushed before it can bloom” with an emphasis on the word “crushed.”

To put it mildly, this is not what their label, Warner Records, had in mind. Only a year since Roe v Wade and abortion remained very controversial. Add in the duo’s unapologetic and urgent plea for women contemplating abortion to “stop, think it over…” and it’s no shock that their record label had concerns.

As Dash Crofts later recalled, the label said, “This is a highly controversial subject, we advise that you don’t do this.” To which they replied, “But you’re in the business to make money; we’re doing it to save lives. We don’t care about the money.”

When the album released in early 1974, the label’s fears came true: Radio stations refused to play the title track because abortion supporters demanded equal time and picketed Seals and Croft concerts.

As music writer Bill de Young wrote 20 years later, “The critics tore the record to pieces, and Seals and Crofts with it…  ‘Unborn Child’ hurt Seals and Crofts’ reputation—it was as if they had crossed that thin line, that sacrosanct divider that separated their music from their religious beliefs.”

Those beliefs? Seals and Croft weren’t Christians. They were Baha’is, a 19th century religion from Persia.

As Seals and Crofts later said, it’s worth the risk. “I think we got more good results out of it than bad…” Dash Crofts said. “…a lot of people called us and said, ‘We’re naming our children after you, because you helped us decide to save their lives with that song.’”

The message according to Seals and Crofts was simple:  don’t take life too lightly, stop and think before going through with an abortion. But that message has no place in a world controlled by the abortion lobby. The sad truth is, “Unborn Child” was, for Seals and Crofts, the beginning of the end. Just like abortion has been for almost 61 million children since Roe v Wade. That’s more tragic than the Seals and Crofts story. At least they saved a few.

Promoted to Heaven

It was June 13, 1965. We were called Peninsula Baptist Church back then. There hadn’t been a senior pastor yet, only an interim pastor. The ink had hardly dried after the October signing of a founding declaration by 33 people, giving birth to Peninsula. The church was meeting at Margate School (now called PVIS). By the way, Margate has a much less institutional feel than PVIS. Right?

Anyway, eight months after the official launch of Peninsula, we sent out our first missionary. She would go to the Philippines and join the faculty of Faith Academy, where she would serve for well over 30 years. She had our support until she retired. Every month without fail.

This week is a bit nostalgic and sad for those who’ve been around awhile. That first sent missionary was Jan Lahman, and she passed away in Colorado this week. She suffered from dementia for many years and was under the care of a nursing home with a wonderful guardian to guide her through these last stages of life. It was a long slide home, but in my last contact with her guardian I learned she still loved to read her Bible every single day and was still smiling at the thought of Jesus. That was over a year ago.

Jan smiled a lot in life. A lot. Leaving the States in the mid-60s as a single woman could not have been easy. I must say a little bit bold. I got to know Jan in the 1990s when she’d come around while on furlough. Jan lit up a room. She loved Jesus and it was evident. There was a winsome spirit about her that was contagious. It was always great to have her around Peninsula for as long as we could get her.

Jan never married and her relatives were scattered across the country (at least from my recollection). When she retired, she went to work in the home office of the mission board that handled her support, Cadence. That office was too far from SoCal, so we didn’t get to see her much after that. Our loss. Her final lap was long and difficult. I have no doubt she made deep friendships in Colorado, but these last five years must have been difficult.

Just because you devote your life to serving Christ in a foreign culture, you don’t get a pass from the struggles of life. She faced with courage each phase of life, never losing the joy of walking with Jesus. She believed that the value of what waited for her in eternity far outweighed anything she gave up serving Jesus on earth. She never expected special treatment from God just because she left home to serve students in Manilla.

When I think of Jan I remember her laugh. I think of the pure joy that surrounded her wherever she went. And I am reminded of the price she paid to follow Jesus. May we all take a moment today to reflect on the grace of her life, whether we knew her or not. She was faithful to the end. Dependent on the Word. Full of joy and God’s grace. What more could we want?

Bombo College Students Update

I’ll never forget our first trip to Bombo. It was August/September of 2007 and none of us knew anything about what was in store for us in the future. On our last day in Bombo (actually we were in our guest house in Kampala) we sat down with Alex and Millie Ojera from Bombo Pentecostal Church (BPC) for a debriefing. We asked Alex and Millie this question: If we continue to be involved with BPC, what do you need that we could provide? They immediately responded with two things: (1) We need some kind of a medical mission or clinic and (2) we have some students who have graduated high school but don’t have the means the means to go on to college or Bible school. Well you know the story of what is now 11 medical clinics, but the story I want to tell is about those students.

After our meeting with the Ojeras, Les Smith and I began talking and when we got home the rudiments of a plan had been formulated. We would ask our Sunday school class to sponsor some of the young people in Bombo to a college education. I presented the need for college scholarships to the Sunday school class and with excitement the class decided to take on five students selected by Alex and Millie and provide scholarships for those five students. The scholarships ranged from a low of $250 to a high of $500 per term for each student. In conjunction with the Ojeras, we established three rules for the recipients:

• Walk close to the Lord throughout your education process.
• Maintain good grades throughout.
• After graduation, stay in Uganda and use your education to help your own people.

As I write this in mid-December, we have now provided scholarships for 16 students, 14 of which have graduated, one dropped out and one is still in medical school and plans to return to Bombo upon graduation and take charge of the medical clinic PCC paid for a few years ago. The others among other things are:

• Teaching in Donela School, the private Christian school established by Align Ministries in Bombo, now serving more than 600 students in grades 1-8.
• Pastoring in churches in towns near Bombo, churches planted by BPC.
• Leading in music and worship in the various churches.
• And more.

In fact those original students we sponsored decided they needed to do more and they committed on their own initiative to save part of their income to help provide tuition funding for students who would follow them. And they have continued to do that.

Currently we are supporting four new students all of whom started college this year. What a rich blessing this has been for the class. Who knew back in the fall of 2007 the ways we at PCC could have an impact on this wonderful community of young Christian students half a world away!

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This Is Family

A big question swirling around this week is, how is Health Together going. Well, the simple answer seems to be that it is going very well. Brooke Adams, Hannah Nachef and Kara Ing (she’s led worship here a couple of times and is a good college friend of Hannah’s) are in Bombo this morning. The nurse of the group, Laura Tice, leaves Monday to oversee the actual training portion of the trip. But here’s a taste of what God is doing in Bombo just this week. I’m editing from Brooke’s Thursday blog post.

Today was day one in Bombo. We arrived at Bombo Pentecostal Church and quickly began Health Together activities. Our first meeting of the day was with Life Medical Staff. Dr. Henry came from medical school to meet with the Health Together team comprised of our American group as well as Life Medical Clinic’s staff. The Life Medical Centre (LMC) staff has done a lot of work to prepare for this project. They are rallying volunteers, getting local official approval, and providing critical insight into how to most effectively increase LMC outreach and health education efforts.

Dr. Henry and Dr. Alex provided extensive insight in to the functions of Life Medical throughout the year. This was a highly beneficial conversation as we spoke face-to-face to refine the plan to achieve the goals of Health Together. The Life Medical team cares deeply for Bombo and is working hard to promote sustained health of their community. After finalizing a plan for the coming weeks, we met with Alex and Millie to discuss the outcomes of the conversation with the clinic, determine next steps for the health education at Donela schools and implementation of the feminine hygiene training at the Life Homes.

It was a day for honest and deep conversation.

Between meetings we were standing outside in the shade while it was lunch time for the school. Many children came up to greet me with the standard, “Good afternoon” and a hug. Different church staff and members greeted us with joy. Millie introduced me to a teacher at Donela and said, “Do you know Brooke?” And she replied, “Yes, I know Brooke, she is an African!” It always feels like coming home when I come to Bombo. Often throughout the day people thanked me for returning, saying it means so much when I come back again.

My reply is always, this is family. Therefore, I believe in this project, because those involved in Bombo are family. I have served alongside them for the past three years at the clinic and continue to serve alongside them in this project. They are the ones telling us of the needs, the factors contributing to poor health, and expressing hope things will continue to improve. Someone asked me why this, why a month of exhausting unpaid work and my response was simple: I have seen and heard from my friends in Uganda the disparities in healthcare and so I must do something.

“It will succeed,” says Henry. I pray it does.

As do we all, Brooke. As do we all.

Health Together

This afternoon we send off two of our own to Uganda. We begin a step which has been a long time coming. As we get serious about planning for the 12th medical mission in Bombo, we launch something new. Something with huge potential for change, because we have learned something over this last decade.

Health education is a huge need in Bombo and in the month ahead we will discover the scope of that need. We are sending a team over to assess the level of health education in the Bombo community. They have put together a survey which will be conducted by a rather large team in about a week. And then, they’ve put together some educational materials to teach the people how to teach each other about hypertension and feminine hygiene. This is our pilot program.  It’s an experiment. It’s not all that different from that first medical mission in 2008.

This last decade in Uganda has been a huge learning curve for us as a church family. And your support along the way has been what’s kept this adventure moving forward. That first year, I think we permanently damaged Karen Garland’s fingers as she manually took all the blood pressure measurements. She must have squeezed that bulb thousands of times, which wears the skin off your fingers. It was quite painful by the end of the week. Last year, we had probably 10 automatic sphygmomanometers (see, even I learned something).

We pulled off that first clinic in one space. Triage alone now has a couple of tents. The doctors have spread out over six large classrooms. The lab and vision have their own rooms. It’s quite a production — managed by the church in Bombo. Not us.

The clinic has grown in its sophistication. It has grown in the specialties offered. But through all this growth the long-term impact will be dramatically increased as we pursue this new venture, Health Together. And that begins when that flight takes off this afternoon.

We are still doing the annual clinic. It is still all about relationships. It is still all about the Gospel. But it is also about teaching them to make long-term adjustments in diet and exercise that will help shrink the patient load at annual clinic (in a good way).

Of course, at this point, it will all become about compliance, right? Which is exactly your issue each doctor visit. Will we do what the doctor tells us to do? Does he really know best? Compliance. Ask any doctor and that’s the big challenge with any patient.

Ask any spiritual leader, well, even ask the Chief Shepherd. Compliance is a big issue. Are we willing to listen to the Shepherd and do what He says? But spiritually, we want a deeper motivation to our compliance. We want our love for Jesus to motivate us. The goal is not just to legalistically do stuff, but to teach our senses to discern between good and evil. To grow up in Christ.  To please Him in everything. That is no easy task.

Health Together is no easy task either. But we really don’t have much of a choice. Lives are at stake. As is eternity.

Prayers We Have No Business Praying

This morning marks the end of our messages in the 28 Days of Prayer campaign. I really am hoping that you have enjoyed this month. I am praying that God has challenged us all as we prayed through a few of the Psalms. It doesn’t matter if you get through all 28 this month, what matters is if you used some of your time this month to connect with God on a deeper and more intimate level.

One of the things I have been thinking about this month (but it never made it into a sermon) was whether we ask God for things we really have no right to ask?  Do you think so?  Along those lines, Tony Campolo tells a story.

He was a guest speaker at a mission rally, when he was asked to lead in prayer for a missionary doctor the group supported. The goal of the prayer? That God might provide the $5,000 urgently needed for the medical center the doctor ran. We can relate, right?

That sounds like a legitimate prayer request. But Tony refused. He would not lead in that prayer. Sometimes I wish I had his guts. But why did he refuse?

Tony refused to lead in that prayer because he knew his audience was made up of people who were materially prosperous. So, he said he would pray only after everyone in the room gave to the project the money they had on them that day. The audience were stunned, but when Tony started emptying his pockets they knew he was serious. After some hesitation, everyone started following suit. The prayer of request soon became a prayer of thanksgiving, for by the end of the giving they had collected $8,000, much more than was needed in the first place!

And I think Tony was correct. Why pray about something when the answer to that prayer is right there in front of you? Maybe we think it’s more spiritual to pray than to give, perhaps? Maybe we are using prayer as an announcement of a need? Maybe we think we’ve done our part if we’ve just prayed? Of course, prayer doesn’t really cost us anything, where stepping in to meet a need might cost us some money or some gasoline in the car or some time away from home.

If prayer could lead us to action, I’m all for it. But to stand up in front of a prosperous group of people and pray that a financial need be met without the challenge to join in and help meet that need…seems to beg the question.

Are we praying about things that we could be used to be the very answer to that prayer? But we either don’t think about it or we don’t want to sacrifice to bring about that answer to prayer. There is a prayer we really have no business praying.

There are many questions surrounding the idea of prayer. But I want to encourage prayer, not discourage it. I hope these days have renewed your passion to pray. That you’ve been re-energized in your walk with God. May we now, more than ever, pray without ceasing. And may that lead to wonderful testimonies of thanksgiving to God.

The Empty Chair

How is your adventure in prayer coming along? I am praying that we all enjoy some fresh conversations with God this month. May we discover the joy in walking daily with Jesus in a way that will provide energy for life and space for faith. If you struggle with prayer, I hope you will enjoy talking with God this month. In that regard, I came across a story which I hope can be true for each of us. And, remind us of the nature of prayer itself.

A man’s daughter had asked the local pastor to come and pray with her father. When the pastor arrived, he found the man lying in bed with his head propped up on two pillows and an empty chair beside his bed. The pastor assumed that the old fellow had been informed of his visit. “I guess you were expecting me,” he said.

“No, who are you?”

“I’m the new associate at your local church,” the pastor replied. “When I saw the empty chair, I figured you knew I was going to show up.”

“Oh yeah, the chair,” said the bedridden man. “Would you mind closing the door?”

Puzzled, the pastor shut the door.

“I’ve never told anyone this, not even my daughter,” said the man. “But all of my life I have never known how to pray. At church, I used to hear the pastor talk about prayer, but it always went right over my head.”

“I abandoned any attempt at prayer,” the old man continued, “until one day about four years ago my best friend said to me, ‘Joe, prayer is just a simple matter of having a conversation with Jesus. Here’s what I suggest. Sit down on a chair, place an empty chair in front of you, and in faith see Jesus on the chair. It’s not spooky because he promised, “I’ll be with you always.” Then just speak to him and listen in the same way you’re doing with me right now.’”

“So, I tried it and I’ve liked it so much that I do it a couple of hours every day. I’m careful, though. If my daughter saw me talking to an empty chair, she’d either have a nervous breakdown or send me off to the funny farm.”

The pastor was deeply moved by the story and encouraged the old guy to continue the journey. Then he prayed with him and returned to the church.

Two nights later the daughter called to tell the pastor that her daddy had died that afternoon.

“Did he seem to die in peace?” he asked.

“Yes, when I left the house around 2 o’clock, he called me over to his bedside, told me one of his corny jokes, and kissed me on the cheek. When I got back from the store an hour later, I found him dead. But there was something strange. In fact, beyond strange, just weird. Apparently, just before Daddy died, he leaned over and rested his head on a chair beside the bed.”

May prayer be a natural part of our lives. Not a burden, but a conversation. May we be found in that conversation when God calls us home in a seamless transition.

Stay Focused in Prayer Life with This Tip

We are in the front half of our 28-day journey of prayer. What’s God been doing in your life? Sometimes prayer can be overwhelming because there is just so much about which we want and need to pray that we get distracted. We throw up our hands and don’t pray at all. Let me toss out an idea which I have found helpful to stay focused and thorough in my prayer life.

It starts with getting a small notebook or journal. My journal has maybe eight pages for prayer. I write the following titles on the top of each page. Daily. Monday. Tuesday. Wednesday. Thursday. Friday. Saturday. You can include Sunday if you’d like.

On the daily page, I list in the items which I want to pray for every single day. These are usually pressing needs that easily come to mind. A health crisis. Job need. Family. Close friend. Whatever. That page sees more change than the other pages, and notations of answered prayer are so encouraging. It often sees additions and deletions as God is at work.

And then I break up the other big areas that are close to my heart and list them on the other pages, each with a day of the week heading. So, for example, Monday are mostly for missionaries. Tuesdays are for the church staff. Extended family on another day. Specific people that have requested prayer on another. Maybe ministries on another. The government and its leaders on another. However, God leads. You see, I find praying for all those things on one day can make my prayer time just a shotgun approach. If I spread out my requests topically through the week, there is a flow to my prayer time. Also, the week takes on a rhythm that is refreshing and after a few weeks I know what to pray for on any given day — even when my prayer journal is not around. One day is focused on the worship of God.

And then, it’s always nice to keep a page reserved for answers to prayer. As I see God at work, I write down what He’s doing and how I’ve seen Him answer specific prayers. I’ve always found this a helpful tool to encourage daily prayer and to keep it fresh and my heart open to God’s leading.

The goal is to keep my time with God fresh and current. I’ve found that keeping a pattern to the weekly prayer time is one great way to do just that. Besides, it broadens my concerns beyond those in my immediate circle of influence. Prayer can get so focused on me and my life that I forget to cross the globe with God’s passion and my prayer.

I hope you are finding this month a refreshing emphasis on prayer. If you have a short (or long) story to tell, I strongly encourage you to go to the Lounge after worship and let us capture that story. We want God to get all the glory for what He is doing among us. May He refresh our lives as we concentrate on praying in February. See you at the throne! With or without a list!

Not Dominance – But Thoughtful Engagement

A video clip of a Virginia lawmaker saying she would allow abortions up until the moment of birth went viral this week. In the video, Kathy Tran (D-Fairfax) is asked if her proposed legislation, would let a woman ask for a late-term abortion for mental health reasons.

“Where it’s obvious that a woman is about to give birth… she has physical signs that she is about to give birth would that still be a point at which she could request an abortion if she was so certified? If she’s dilating?” asked House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah).  “My bill would allow that, yes,” answered Tran. Eventually.

Many people are rightly appalled by the callous disregard for the life of a soon-to-be born infant. But we should not be shocked. Allowing women to have an abortion for mental-health reasons anytime in the third trimester (28 weeks until birth) is already the law of the land in the United States.

I was angry. I struggle with the callousness toward life in the law. But how do we lovingly and gracefully argue against abortion? I came across this piece which does just that in 250 words or less.

Preach a biblical view of human value. But students in local churches also need to know how to make an essential pro-life argument and convey it to non-Christians. The basic shape of that argument looks like this:

Premise #1: It is wrong to intentionally kill innocent human beings.

Premise #2: Abortion intentionally kills innocent human beings.

Conclusion: Therefore, abortion is morally wrong.

Pro-life advocates defend that argument with science and philosophy. We argue from science that the unborn are distinct, living, and whole human beings. You didn’t come from an embryo; you once were an embryo.

We argue from philosophy that there is no relevant difference between you the embryo and you the adult that justifies killing you at that earlier stage of development. Differences of size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency are not good reasons for saying you could be killed then but not now.

Instead of arguing at a fever pitch, Christian students can be taught to ask thoughtful questions aimed at giving people something to think about. Two of my favorites are:

“Do you believe that each and every human being has an equal right to life, or do only some have it based on something none of us share equally?”

And…

“If it’s wrong to hurt people because of skin color or gender, why is it okay to hurt them because they are smaller, less developed, or in a different location?”

The goal of asking is not dominance but thoughtful engagement.  (Scott Klusendorf, president of Life Training Institute).

Thoughtful engagement. That is what we need and what has been modeled by the Savior. The lives of children hang in the balance.

28 Days of Prayer

This morning we turn a corner from the big picture of where we are headed as a church family to focus on our individual spiritual lives. In the month of February, we are going to talk about prayer. None of us need a guilt trip about prayer, that’s for sure. Maybe some motivation, but no guilt. In the month to come we have some easy memory verses to learn. We have a daily prayer guide to teach us to use the Psalms as a vehicle for prayer. We have four messages on prayer.

The month of February is all about spiritual growth. And spiritual growth is God’s will for your life. Babies are cute. Really cute. Kids are cute. Really cute. But a child that does not grow up is not cute. It’s tragic. There are a lot of old people who are spiritually and emotionally immature. They grew up without growing up. God wants us to all to grow up. He does not want us to stay as a baby in diapers. He wants you to be spiritually strong. He wants you to be a man of God or a woman of God.

And that is our focus over the 28 days of February. Growing up in God by growing deeper in our intimacy with God. Prayer is an important sign that our relationship with God is true and strong. Our desire to call upon the name of the Lord comes as God works in us, and so when we pray to Him with sincerity, acknowledging our sins and hoping in His mercy, we demonstrate that we remain in His hand.

Will you draw near to Jesus in February? Don’t let life’s daily struggles keep you from drawing near to God. Let prayer build your hope to the future God has for you. In asking Him to be with us and meet our needs, we show our confidence that the best is yet to come.

Oswald Chambers puts it this way: Prayer is not a normal part of the life of the natural man. We hear it said that a person’s life will suffer if he doesn’t pray, but I question that. What will suffer is the life of the Son of God in him, which is nourished not by food, but by prayer. The problem is that no one will ever really pray until he is at his wits’ end. When a person is at his wits’ end, it no longer seems to be a cowardly thing to pray; in fact, it is the only way he can get in touch with the truth and the reality of God Himself. Be yourself before God and present Him with your problems— the very things that have brought you to your wits’ end. But as long as you think you are self-sufficient, you do not need to ask God for anything.

May we humble ourselves before God in February. My prayer is not so much that we see a lot of changes externally, but that we will see God at work within us. That’s just as much a miracle of prayer as anything else. Let us get a fresh glimpse of what God is doing.

Stop, Think It Over

Tuesday marks 46 years since the passage of Roe v Wade, which made abortion-on-demand the law of the land. This year also marks the 45 years since what is arguably the most courageous act in pop culture history.

In the early 1970s, the Texas-born Jim Seals and Dash Crofts were at the peak of their popularity. Their 1972 album “Summer Breeze” reached number seven on the Billboard album charts. The 1973 follow-up, “Diamond Girl,” did even better, peaking at number four.  The record company was thrilled and so were fans. Both were looking forward to what was next from Seals and Croft.

Lana Day Bogan, wife of the duo’s recording engineer and longtime friend Joe Bogan, had seen a television documentary on abortion and was moved to write a poem, from the point of view of the baby. Seals, at Lana’s suggestion, put it to music. It opened with the lines “Oh little baby, you’ll never cry, nor will you hear a sweet lullaby.” The result was the song “Unborn Child,” which also became the name of their new album.

The song opens gently, but depicts the reality of abortion. The unborn child is “a tiny bud that grows in the womb only to be crushed before it can bloom” with an emphasis on the word “crushed.”

To put it mildly, this is not what their label, Warner Records, had in mind. Only a year since Roe v Wade and abortion remained very controversial. Add in the duo’s unapologetic and urgent plea for women contemplating abortion to “stop, think it over…” and it’s no shock that their record label had concerns.

As Dash Crofts later recalled, the label said, “This is a highly controversial subject, we advise that you don’t do this.” To which they replied, “But you’re in the business to make money; we’re doing it to save lives. We don’t care about the money.”

When the album released in early 1974, the label’s fears came true: Radio stations refused to play the title track because abortion supporters demanded equal time and picketed Seals and Croft concerts.

As music writer Bill de Young wrote 20 years later, “The critics tore the record to pieces, and Seals and Crofts with it…  ‘Unborn Child’ hurt Seals and Crofts’ reputation—it was as if they had crossed that thin line, that sacrosanct divider that separated their music from their religious beliefs.”

Those beliefs? Seals and Croft weren’t Christians. They were Baha’is, a 19th century religion from Persia.

As Seals and Crofts later said, it’s worth the risk. “I think we got more good results out of it than bad…” Dash Crofts said. “…a lot of people called us and said, ‘We’re naming our children after you, because you helped us decide to save their lives with that song.’”

The message according to Seals and Crofts was simple:  don’t take life too lightly, stop and think before going through with an abortion. But that message has no place in a world controlled by the abortion lobby. The sad truth is, “Unborn Child” was, for Seals and Crofts, the beginning of the end. Just like abortion has been for almost 61 million children since Roe v Wade. That’s more tragic than the Seals and Crofts story. At least they saved a few.

Promoted to Heaven

It was June 13, 1965. We were called Peninsula Baptist Church back then. There hadn’t been a senior pastor yet, only an interim pastor. The ink had hardly dried after the October signing of a founding declaration by 33 people, giving birth to Peninsula. The church was meeting at Margate School (now called PVIS). By the way, Margate has a much less institutional feel than PVIS. Right?

Anyway, eight months after the official launch of Peninsula, we sent out our first missionary. She would go to the Philippines and join the faculty of Faith Academy, where she would serve for well over 30 years. She had our support until she retired. Every month without fail.

This week is a bit nostalgic and sad for those who’ve been around awhile. That first sent missionary was Jan Lahman, and she passed away in Colorado this week. She suffered from dementia for many years and was under the care of a nursing home with a wonderful guardian to guide her through these last stages of life. It was a long slide home, but in my last contact with her guardian I learned she still loved to read her Bible every single day and was still smiling at the thought of Jesus. That was over a year ago.

Jan smiled a lot in life. A lot. Leaving the States in the mid-60s as a single woman could not have been easy. I must say a little bit bold. I got to know Jan in the 1990s when she’d come around while on furlough. Jan lit up a room. She loved Jesus and it was evident. There was a winsome spirit about her that was contagious. It was always great to have her around Peninsula for as long as we could get her.

Jan never married and her relatives were scattered across the country (at least from my recollection). When she retired, she went to work in the home office of the mission board that handled her support, Cadence. That office was too far from SoCal, so we didn’t get to see her much after that. Our loss. Her final lap was long and difficult. I have no doubt she made deep friendships in Colorado, but these last five years must have been difficult.

Just because you devote your life to serving Christ in a foreign culture, you don’t get a pass from the struggles of life. She faced with courage each phase of life, never losing the joy of walking with Jesus. She believed that the value of what waited for her in eternity far outweighed anything she gave up serving Jesus on earth. She never expected special treatment from God just because she left home to serve students in Manilla.

When I think of Jan I remember her laugh. I think of the pure joy that surrounded her wherever she went. And I am reminded of the price she paid to follow Jesus. May we all take a moment today to reflect on the grace of her life, whether we knew her or not. She was faithful to the end. Dependent on the Word. Full of joy and God’s grace. What more could we want?

Bombo College Students Update

I’ll never forget our first trip to Bombo. It was August/September of 2007 and none of us knew anything about what was in store for us in the future. On our last day in Bombo (actually we were in our guest house in Kampala) we sat down with Alex and Millie Ojera from Bombo Pentecostal Church (BPC) for a debriefing. We asked Alex and Millie this question: If we continue to be involved with BPC, what do you need that we could provide? They immediately responded with two things: (1) We need some kind of a medical mission or clinic and (2) we have some students who have graduated high school but don’t have the means the means to go on to college or Bible school. Well you know the story of what is now 11 medical clinics, but the story I want to tell is about those students.

After our meeting with the Ojeras, Les Smith and I began talking and when we got home the rudiments of a plan had been formulated. We would ask our Sunday school class to sponsor some of the young people in Bombo to a college education. I presented the need for college scholarships to the Sunday school class and with excitement the class decided to take on five students selected by Alex and Millie and provide scholarships for those five students. The scholarships ranged from a low of $250 to a high of $500 per term for each student. In conjunction with the Ojeras, we established three rules for the recipients:

• Walk close to the Lord throughout your education process.
• Maintain good grades throughout.
• After graduation, stay in Uganda and use your education to help your own people.

As I write this in mid-December, we have now provided scholarships for 16 students, 14 of which have graduated, one dropped out and one is still in medical school and plans to return to Bombo upon graduation and take charge of the medical clinic PCC paid for a few years ago. The others among other things are:

• Teaching in Donela School, the private Christian school established by Align Ministries in Bombo, now serving more than 600 students in grades 1-8.
• Pastoring in churches in towns near Bombo, churches planted by BPC.
• Leading in music and worship in the various churches.
• And more.

In fact those original students we sponsored decided they needed to do more and they committed on their own initiative to save part of their income to help provide tuition funding for students who would follow them. And they have continued to do that.

Currently we are supporting four new students all of whom started college this year. What a rich blessing this has been for the class. Who knew back in the fall of 2007 the ways we at PCC could have an impact on this wonderful community of young Christian students half a world away!

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