Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Lessons from the Volkswagen Beetle

My folks purchased a VW Beetle while I was still high school back in the late 60s and early 70s. They were making daily round trip commute of 80 miles to and from work at the time and needed something that gave good gas mileage. Sounds a bit like what folks are talking about today. It was painted orange (a good color for a UT grad like myself) and the factory name for the color was Clementine Orange, hence the name Clementine stuck for the little car. Along about my sophomore year at UT, I inherited Clementine and drove it for a couple of more years. It was a delight to park as it was small and fit in to some pretty tight spots. I don't remember exactly why Clementine left the family, but she eventually did.

Five years ago today on July 30, 2003, the last “classic” Volkswagen Beetle rolled off the assembly line at the production plant in Puebla, Mexico. It was shipped to a museum in Wolfsburg, Germany where the Volkswagen headquarters is located. The car that inspired Disney’s Herbie the Love Bug series was actually originally the result of an initiative by Adolf Hitler to make an affordable, efficient “people’s car.” The Beetle was popular in the 60s and early 70s in the U.S. until it was banned in 1977 for failing to meet safety and emissions standards. Until 2003, it continued to be produced in Mexico where one can still see to this day thousands of green Beetles being used as city taxis.

The Beetle finally found itself unable to compete with other inexpensive compact cars. Its failure to adapt to change marked its demise. One of the challenges we all face is adapting to change. You may have heard the refrain, “The only constant is change.” Change is unsettling and uncomfortable, but it’s a given in this world. I think that as we age, we tend to long more and with greater nostalgia for the good old days. We probably remember those days as better than they actually were, but in our memory they represent better times, less marked by rapid upheaval.

Reacting positively to change is difficult, but if we’ll make the effort to do so, it will help us to stay young at heart—-no matter what our biological age might be. The new redesigned Beetle that Volkswagen introduced in 1998 has done fairly well in sales, a testament to the virtue of adapting to change. One thing that will help us to cope with change is to remember that the Lord who promises to never leave us nor forsake us is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

(I shared the gist of this post in our monthly senior adult newsletter).

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Tabitha Ministry

I’d like to introduce you to a special person and a wonderful ministry she has in Guatemala City. Carol Bercian is the partnership liaison for the Guatemala Baptist Convention and handles the logistics for volunteer teams coming into the country to work on various projects. As you are aware if you’ve read my previous posts, the Baptist General Convention of Missouri has an ongoing partnership with the Guatemala Baptist Convention and thus we have worked closely with Carol on each of our trips. Alabama Baptists also have a partnership with Guatemala, and being much larger than our convention, they keep Carol busy with trip arrangements for many mission groups that they send.

Carol has also directed the children’s work of the Guatemala Convention and has a wonderful heart for ministry. One of the projects she has assisted with is a daycare center that is located near the city dump in Guatemala City. Around 70 children are receiving an education and two meals a day through this important ministry.

In the process of working with the children there, Carol became aware of the desperate plight of many of these children’s mothers. Most earn a living by scrounging through the refuse at the dump, looking for items they can resell or even scavenging for food among what is discarded there. Many come from a background of drugs, glue sniffing, and prostitution. Carol began a ministry among these women and many have come to Christ as Savior and have received discipleship training from Carol. Though their life situation is still very difficult and tenuous, a real transformation is occurring among many of them. Carol has acquired sewing machines and the ladies are making colorful bags with some of the bright fabrics that Guatemala is noted for producing. This has provided them with a source of income and given them an escape from their former life of prostitution.

I’ve been able to visit the daycare center on a couple of trips to Guatemala City, including going there with a team from our church back in February. As a result of seeing Carol’s ministry there, our children’s minister proposed that this year’s VBS offering go to assist the Tabitha Ministry that Carol has among these women. I’m delighted to share that the boys and girls raised a little more than $700 with their penny offerings to help with this ministry on the edges of the city dump in Guatemala City. As the Lord prompts you to do so, please say a prayer for Carol and her vital work with these ladies and their children.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Reading Yancey

One of the things I enjoyed this past week on my trip to Guatemala in addition to the fellowship and teaching time with the pastors and lay leaders there was the opportunity to catch up on some reading. Airport layovers are good for that. One of my favorite authors is Phillip Yancey and I took the time to re-read Where is God When it Hurts?, as well as reading one of his bestsellers—-The Jesus I Never Knew. If you’re not familiar with Yancey’s writings, I highly encourage you to grab one of his books. I think you’ll have a hard time putting it down. His writing is at times brutally honest about our struggles as Christians, and that’s something I respect about him. I wanted to share a couple of quotes from the latter book, hopefully to spark your interest in reading it.

“Killing Jesus, says Walter Wink, was like trying to destroy a dandelion seed-head by blowing on it.”

Commenting on Jesus’ parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25 and God’s apparent absence from the world at times, Yancey writes, “God has not absconded at all. Rather, he has taken on a disguise, a most unlikely disguise of the stranger, the poor, the hungry, the prisoner, the sick, the ragged ones of the earth. 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it for me.' If we cannot detect God’s presence in the world, it may be that we have been looking in the wrong places.”

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Home from Guatemala

I arrived home from Guatemala at about 11:00 p.m. on Friday night. I probably could have caught an earlier flight out of Houston on Continental Airlines as we arrived there in time to do so, but I didn't want to take my chances when I was scheduling the flights with a tight connecting flight time. I've had several late flights in the past from Guatemala City and didn't want to push my luck too far.

The pastors' and lay leaders' training conferences went very well. Rather than the Guatemala Convention handling the invitations and enrollment this time, they left those tasks up to the leaders of the newly established pastors' association in that region. One of the results of that was the presence of some new folks this time who hadn't participated in the three previous training sessions. At the same time, the majority were still those who have attended all 4 sessions. The Guatemala Baptist Convention tends to be pretty conservative theologically so I wasn't 100% certain how they would react to a woman pastor as the main conference speaker, but any doubts or concerns I might have had were quickly erased. Jeanie did an outstanding job of leading the conferences and planned in a good deal of small group interaction and dialogue time that allowed the group to arrive at their own conclusions and embrace the contents that she shared as their own. The comments afterwards were unanimously positive in terms of evaluating her participation.

I had been asked to preach at the First Baptist Church of Quetzaltenango for the worship service on Tuesday night that marked the formal inauguration of the new pastors' association for that region. It was a packed house, with folks even sitting in chairs outside on the patio area outside the main auditorium and listening through open windows. I would guess there were close to 300 present. I preached a message from Phil. 2:1-11, focusing on Paul's call to unity and humility with the supreme example of humility being that of Jesus Himself.

Another highlight of the trip for me was the chance to do some reading while traveling as well as in the evening times. I had purposed to re-read Yancey's "Where is God When it Hurts" before passing it along to a church member who has been struggling with some very frustrating medical issues lately. After finishing that, I also had time to read another Yancey book, "The Jesus I Never Knew." It was an outstanding book, one of my favorites by him, and gave me a lot of food for thought as he challenged some commonly-held assumptions about Jesus and forced me to re-think some of those issues. I would highly recommend the book if you have not yet read it.

Thanks to those who prayed for our trip. The Lord richly blessed our time there.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Upcoming trip to Guatemala

Well, it's been 5 months since my last trip to Guatemala with our church and 6 months since the last leadership training conferences with the BGCM. That must mean it's time to head south again. I'll be doing just that this coming Monday. In this latest round of workshops for pastors and leaders, I'll be joined by Jeanie McGowan, associate pastor of the FBC of Jefferson City. Jeanie joined the staff of the BGCM at the start of this year and is heading up our leadership development team. Her duties at FBC Jefferson City include singles ministry and equipping ministry. As our previous conferences focused on evangelism and church planting, in a logical progression, this time we're going to address the issue of assimilating new members into the life of the congregation. Jeanie will be leading in the conferences and I'll be her translator.

Another blessing of this trip will be the opportunity to preach at the inauguration of a new pastors' association for those living and serving in the western region of Guatemala. Our partnership liaison informed me that the formation of this association is the direct result of the BGCM's ongoing relationship with the pastors in this area and our leadership training conferences. They've experienced much greater unity and are networking with one another in ways they have not previously done. That is really an exciting development and I rejoice in what the Lord is doing in their midst.

This will be a quick trip this time, departing on Monday and returning on Friday. We'll conduct the workshops on Tuesday and Wednesday, do some sightseeing on Thursday, and fly home on Friday. I'd certainly appreciate the prayers of any who happen to stumble across my blog and read this post. Thanks.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Temple's Definition of Worship

This week I happened upon a definition of worship by Archbishop William Temple. Temple served as the Archbishop of Canterbury during World War II. He defines worship as follows: “Worship is the submission of all of our nature to God. It is the quickening of the conscience by His holiness; the nourishment of mind with His truth; the purifying of imagination by His beauty; the opening of the heart to His love; the surrender of will to His purpose—all this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable.”

I hope you’ll take a moment to re-read that definition and ponder the significance of the individual phrases. Worship involves the complete submission of our nature to God. It’s recognizing His supremacy and our unworthiness. In worship we allow His holiness to direct our moral compasses and instruct our conscience about matters of right and wrong. The spiritual food we need for nourishment we find as we reverently allow God to speak His truth into our hearts and minds in worship. The contemplation of the beauty of God’s creation certainly stirs up our imaginations as we seek words capable of expressing His grandeur and majesty. As we open our hearts to His love in worship, we find John’s words to be true—“We love Him because He first loved us.” In worship we come to recognize that God’s will for our lives is always better than any alternative that we could devise and we surrender our wills to His.

Finally, the quote identifies adoration as the most selfless emotion our nature is capable of producing. When we adore God in spirit and in truth as Jesus urged (Jn. 4:23-24), we empty ourselves of self and are filled with His Holy Spirit, enabling us to render to God the worship of which He alone is worthy.