Sunday, November 28, 2010

8 Reflections about Prague and Paris

I like to travel in part because of what it reminds me about God. I have been blessed to travel a bit in my life. I lived in the Philippines for almost one year during college and briefly stopped in Tokyo on the way over and have spent a few days in Hong Kong on three occasions. Ten years ago Heather and I spent five days in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico with a group of pastors and spouses from our district. For our twenty-fifth anniversary in 2003 Heather and I took Hannah and Elizabeth and traveled to Europe for three weeks – France, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and back to France. The next year I took a high school senior from our church and went back to the Philippines to speak at a pastor’s conference in Cebu City where I lived during college. In 2006 I was privileged to go to Africa – Guinea and Sierra Leone – with a close friend on behalf of our church to visit people and ministries we support. Earlier this year I led a team of people from our church back to Guinea and Sierra Leone on a short-term mission. And finally, thanks to a travel voucher from our church for my 25th anniversary as pastor, Heather and I traveled to Prague and Paris.

There are no geopolitical boundaries with God. He lives in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Cebu City, Puerto Vallarta, Paris, Haarlem, Mannheim, Basel, Rome, Florence, Conakry, Lungi, Freetown, and Prague as well as Dodge City, Boise, Regina, Canby, and Pasadena, places I have lived in North America. Travel never fails to remind me that God is bigger than my country and my culture. God transcends all human borderlines and nationalities.

I am amazed by how old things are in Europe and especially in Prague. The Old Town Square (above picture), which dates back to the late 12th century, started life as the central marketplace for Prague. Over the next few centuries many buildings of Romanesque, Baroque and Gothic styles were erected around the market and still stand today. Construction on The Church of Our Lady of Tyn, easy to identify by its spires which shoot up into the sky above the Square, began in 1365. The Church of St. Nicholas occupies a piece of land on the edge of the Square that has held a church since the 12th century. The present church was completed in 1735. The Old Town Hall Tower, built in 1338, is one of the most striking buildings in Prague. We climbed the stairs on the inside of the tower to a lookout on top that gave us a breath-taking view of the city.

A few blocks from the Old Town Square is The Charles Bridge, a pedestrian only bridge commissioned by Charles IV in 1357. The Powder Gate, which formed one of thirteen entrances to Old Town, started to take shape when its foundation stone was laid in 1475. The streets and sidewalks in Prague are cobblestone. Who knows how long they have been there but when you walk them you sense that every stone cries out with some kind of history.

Prague felt quaint, old, charming, romantic and fairy tale-like. Compared to Paris, Prague is compact. You can easily walk from Wenceslas Square to the Old Town Square to the Jewish Quarter to the Prague Castle across the Vltava River and everywhere in between. Cobblestone streets and sidewalks, probably hundreds of years old, take you where you want to go. You pass through narrow, windy streets lined with shops, cafes, restaurants, and apartments. You encounter limited cars and traffic in the downtown core. From the Old Town Hall Tower your eyes are flooded with red tiled roofs in every direction you look spread out over Prague. The skyline is dotted with church spires. Tables and chairs from outdoor cafes and restaurants fill the sidewalks even on a chilly November evening (blankets are draped over chairs if you need one to wrap up in to stay warm). Prague has been called one of the most magical cities in the world and rightly so. It looks and feels medieval.

I felt a sense of spiritual darkness in Europe. First some statistics and then my comments. According to a 2001 Czech Republic census 59% of the people identify themselves as agnostic, atheist, or non-believer. The fastest growing group of people between 1991 and 2001 were those with no religion which increased by nearly 2 million people or 19.1%. Christianity, especially the Roman Catholic Church, showed negative growth in that same block of time and lost more than 1 million members. Only 19% of the Czech people believe there is a God which is the second lowest rate among the European Union countries. France fares a little better – only 31% of the population claim to be atheists. Of the 51% who describe themselves as Catholics only half of those claimed to believe in God.

As I walked the streets of Prague and Paris I asked myself what had happened to the souls of these people. They were spiritual beings just like me who were created in the image and likeness of God. By and large churches are no longer sacred spaces for worship but historical buildings, concert halls, and art galleries. I wondered if the people of Prague and Paris ever experienced spiritual longings, and if so, how did they identify them and what did they do with them. I wondered if they sometimes felt a need to pray out of gratitude or of a need for help. I questioned how they approached the birth of a new child, the miracle and mystery of new life entering the world. I pondered if they feared death and what they thought might lie on the other side.

One evening in Prague Heather and I walked into a Roman Catholic Church whose door we found unlocked which was rare. The church was cold and dark, a small church compared to others we had visited. The only lights shining lit up the altar area. Once my eyes adjusted to the darkness I noticed an elderly lady off to the left front of the church kneeling and praying – finally, a church where someone was engaged in prayer and worship even if it was only one person.

I love the coffee in European cafes. I am no coffee connoisseur. I have never worked as a barista, roasted coffee, or attended a coffee tasting event. But I love a good, strong latte. The coffee I drank in local cafes in Prague and Paris was the best I have ever tasted – rick, dark, strong but smooth going down. No after taste or acidy residue.

I found a Starbucks in Prague and showed up early one morning for coffee – 7am by Prague time – and ordered a latte. I felt like I was in Portland. Everything looked the same. The latte tasted the same as in the States as well, you know, the usual Starbucks overly roasted burnt taste. Starbucks may have popularized espresso and good coffee in the States but it doesn’t hold a candle to what I enjoyed in Europe.

I noticed something else about coffee in Europe – it is served in a cup and saucer or in a glass mug instead of in a paper cup to go. Coffee is meant to be sipped, enjoyed, lingered over, and shared with a close friend. No hurry, no rush to get in and out. Coffee is not just a drink but an experience and I liked that.

The majority of people in Europe seem to smoke. Lots of people in Europe smoke – men, women, young, old, sophisticated, and simple. Finding a non-smoking restaurant in Prague was a challenge. One night in a nice Czech restaurant we asked for non-smoking. The host led us to a fairly large room in the rear of the restaurant designated for non-smoking. Five minutes after we were seated a group of people took a table on the other side of the room and began to smoke. Soon after others in the room followed. Our non-smoking sanctuary was filled with smoke. I think all of Europe must be dying of lung cancer.

My wife knows how to read a map. I am pretty good at directions as long as I know which way is north, south, east, and west. But put me in a strange city, hand me a map I have never seen before, and tell me to find my way to such-and-such a place and I am instantly in trouble. It does me no good to try to bluff my way around the map or the city – I have tried and it does not work. Often the longer I stare down at the map the more confused I become. My wife is just the opposite. She loves maps. In fact, her eyes light up at the sight of a map.

One night in Paris she used three maps to help us find our way to the neighborhood apartment where Ernest Hemingway first lived in 1921. I was amazed, I still am, and I still might be looking for Hemingway’s apartment if not for the map expertise of Heather.

Flying economy means feeling squished for a long time. 10 hours from Portland to Amsterdam. 8 hours from Paris to New York City. 5 1/2 hours from New York City to Portland (add another 90 minutes which is what happened to us in New York City when we sat in the plane for this long before it finally took off). I fought envy on every flight when I walked through the first-class section – the wide, comfortable, leather-bound seats, the large arm rests with beverage holders, the comfy head rests, and the ample leg room (did I mention the leg room?!).

On our flight from Paris to New York City I sat between Heather and a man from Toronto who was flying home after visiting his family in Egypt. I wouldn’t say he was over-weight but he was certainly stocky and filled his seat. He slept most of the flight (this filled me with envy also). Sometimes in his sleep he would shift over toward me, take the whole arm rest and crowd my side of the seat. My already space living quarters shrunk depending upon how he moved and shifted in his sleep.

Flight space did not improve on the last leg home from New York City to Portland. This time my seat mates were Heather and a young man who looked big enough to be a college football player, probably a fullback or a linebacker. He didn’t fall asleep or shift over to my side but he filled up every square inch of his seat and in doing so made my space seem smaller, especially as the flight wore on.

The flights home from Europe are the closest I have ever been to feeling claustrophobic. I don’t want to see the inside of a plane for a long time. I think there should be law against making people sit in the economy section during international flights!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The power of a sentence

As I look back over they years there are a number of sentences that have had a huge influence upon my life. No doubt, books have made a significant impact upon me. But what made the books influential were the sentence or two within its covers that tattooed themselves upon my mind or heart or soul.

Here is a sampling of sentences from my favorite books and writers used by the Spirit of God to bring about transformation in my life. Although I could write pages about each sentence I will let them stand on their own for your reading and pondering.

"But there is such a thing as rising early for the love of God." (Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, p. 44)

"Beyond all and in all is God." (Pursuing the Monk's Life by Thomas Merton, July 17, 1956)

"Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace." (Now and Then by Frederick Buechner, p. 87)

"For it is not mere words that nourish the soul, but God Himself, and unless and until the hearers find God in personal experience they are not the better for having heard the truth. The Bible is not an end in itself, but a means to bring men to an intimate and satisfying knowledge of God, that they may enter into Him, that they may delight in His Presence, may taste and know the inner sweetness of the very God Himself in the core and center of their hearts." (The Pursuit of God by A. W. Tozer, p. 9-10)

"for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men's faces."
(Poems and Prose by Gerard Manley Hopkins, p. 51)

"God and passion. That is why I was a pastor, that is why I had come to this place: to live in the presence of God, to live with passion - and to gather others into the presence of God, introducing them into the possibilities of a passionate life." (Under the Unpredictable Plant by Eugene H. Peterson, p. 45)

"The whole purpose for which we exist is to be thus taken into the life of God." (Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, p. 161)

"We are like sponges trying to mop up the ocean. We can never know God exhaustively. We can never picture God or imagine him. Either we make him too small, and we strain at that, or we make him too big, and he strains us. We have not got to invent God, nor to hold him. He holds us. I want you to hold very clearly the otherness of God, and the littleness of men. If you don't get that you can't have adoration, and you cannot have religion without adoration. I know more and more how small I am, how great God is." (Letters to a Niece by Baron Fredrich von Hugel, p. 24)

That's a start. I could go on and on. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

25 Years

This past Sunday marked my twenty-fifth anniversary at Canby Alliance Church. I preached my first sermon on the last Sunday of July, 1985. I was twenty-nine years old at the time, married for nearly seven years, and newly graduated from Fuller Theological Seminary with a Master of Divinity degree. I learned first-hand from two of the elders soon after my arrival that they didn't vote for my coming because they thought I was too young and couldn't do the job. I came without knowing what I was going to be paid. I still remember the jest of my first sermon - quit talking behind each other's backs; if you have something to say to me, say it to my face; it's time to forgive one another and heal from the past.

Why those words? The previous two pastors had been asked to leave. Though the first one had been dismissed six years earlier there was still some residual pain lingering in some. The second dismissal was still fresh in everyone's mind and heart. There were the usual differences of opinion about his leaving - some thought it was right and others felt it was wrong or hadn't been handled right. The church body was divided. Mistrust had crept in. Some people had left the church and others were sitting on the fence. Many people were hurting. In retrospect, I had no idea what I was getting into. But God was more than gracious to this young pastor and the congregation he had been called to lead.

On that warm Sunday in July twenty-five years ago I never dreamed that I would still be here in 2010. That seemed like an eternity away back then. My vision for the church in those first months was pretty simple - the church needs to heal, people need to learn to trust each other again, we need to find our unity in Christ, and we can get through this if we choose, under God, to get through this together.

One of my goals for my first year of ministry was to visit every church family in their home. Part of my reason for visitation was to ask everyone how they were dealing with the past and how I could help them move on. Those visits taught me a lot about the church and the hurts, fears, and hopes that people carried. Time after time I realized after leaving a home that these people were good people, had tons of potential, and just needed someone to love and lead them.

One thing I clearly see now as I look back over the past twenty-five years is this - I believe God placed a love in my heart for these people. I didn't have to make it happen. I didn't have to pray for it. I didn't have to work at it. No matter how good or hard the times were, the love I felt in my heart for the church never waned. Even in my darkest moment ten years ago when I was swallowed by a season of depression, once I swept away the clouds I came face-to-face with this love. I can't separate this sense of love from my calling to Canby Alliance Church. The two go hand-in-hand together.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Monk for a Day

I woke up earlier than usual. I was excited because I had scheduled a day room - St. Michael's - at Our Lady of Guadalupe Trappist Abbey near Lafayette, about a 45 minute drive from Canby. The Abbey is one of my favorite places. For a couple of weeks my soul had been telling me I needed rest, some monastic solitude and silence. I pulled into the Dutch Brother's in Newberg before 6am and ordered a latte. I switched on the light in my day room twenty minutes later and turned up the heat. I laid out my Bible, journal, pens, and books on the desk.

I headed for the microwave in the Guest House kitchen to warm up my coffee. Brother Martin was busy making morning coffee for the overnight guests. "Good morning, brother. Are you still over in, what is that, Canby?" "Yes" I told him. "I haven't seen you for a while" he uttered. I replied, "Yea, it's been a long time since I've been here. You've got a good memory." Brother Martin smiled at me and pointed at his head, "Sometimes it works." He went about his business and I went about mine.

I walked outside to look up at the night sky. The morning sun was rising sooner than I expected. The sky was no longer black but a dark blue. A few stars were still shining, twinkling in the cool morning air. I stood still, closed my eyes, and tried to take in the silence. Renewal was already starting.

I opened my journal and started writing. My mind felt like it was in slow gear. Next I began my Bible reading out of Eugene Peterson's The Message Psalm 90-94 and then Luke 19-24. Next I grabbed my ESV Study Bible that I lugged along (it must weigh 25 lbs!) and turned to my sermon passage for Sunday - John 2:1-11, Jesus turning the water into wine. I carefully read the introduction to John's gospel and then the study notes for the passage. One thing led to another. Before long I was jumping all over the Old Testament and the New Testament tracing what the Bible said about the use of wine. Drunkenness is out but "joy" is in - joy is sometimes linked to wine in the Scriptures. I took some careful notes about the 7 signs in John's gospel of which Jesus turning the water into wine is the first.

Next I opened my journal and wrote out my prayers for the day. First, family concerns and then CAC people matters I feel called to pray for. Lately about the only way I can privately pray is by writing out my prayers, a number of journals of them since early this year. I seldom pace up and down in a room and pray out loud like I did for years. It doesn't work anymore so I only occasionally try it.

Next I went outside and walked down the Abbey road to the main highway. I wanted to feel the warm sunshine against my face. I wanted to hear singing birds. As I walked I looked down and saw a black, rust colored furry caterpillar walking across the road in front of me. I put my Nike running shoe in its path to see what it would do. The caterpillar crawled over the toe of my shoe and kept going.

Next I came back to the room and laid down and took a twenty minute nap that felt more like a couple of hours. It was just what I needed.

Next I made a quick diversionary trip to the Abbey bookstore, looked over both old and new titles, and got away without buying anything, somewhat of a miracle.!

Next I grabbed my copy of Godric by Frederick Buechner and my journal and found a quiet corner of the Abbey church to read and pray. I silently prayed through the prayer I wrote earlier that morning. I paused over names and situations that weighed upon my heart. I sought to give those prayers an extra push into heaven. Then I read a couple of chapters in my favorite Buechner novel. This is my third or fourth time to read Godric and each time seems more amazing than the time before.

Next I set off on my favorite hike on the Abbey grounds. By now it was noon. The warm sun was high over head and would push the mercury to 80 degrees. I looked up at a cloudless blue sky. I slowly made my way to the monk's picnic area located in the woods behind the monastery. I walked through the baseball field up into the tall, swaying fir trees that guarded the monk's volleyball and basketball courts, fire pit, and covered eating shelter. Think really simple and really primitive. Grass, dirt, ground cover for the courts. The eating shelter looks like its been there for fifty years, simply made out of leftover wood and materials. I have offered up many prayers here over the years as I've paced back and forth under the majestic fir trees that rise up into the sky to form an outdoor sanctuary for meeting God. I found a sunny spot, looked up into the sun, and closed my eyes - flies buzzing, birds singing, the faint sound of a distant combine.

I took a different trail back to the monastery, one that led me down a windy path next to a dried up creek bed. I heard branches snapping. I stopped and looked around. There across the path from me and standing about twenty feet up the hill was a deer, a doe, eating leaves off a bush of some kind. I expected her to bolt but she didn't. I talked to her. She looked straight at me. We stared each other down. And then she put her head down and continued to eat. She must have surmised that I wasn't a threat to her safety or lunch.

Next I went back to my room and grabbed my journal, Godric, and a new book, Regi Campbell's Mentor Like Jesus. I found a shady spot next to the big pond behind the Guest House. I opened
up Campbell and began to read. Every so often I heard water splashing so I looked down at the water's edge and spotted a large bullfrog. He was sitting in the water with the top of his head above the surface next to a tree stump. Dragon flies were flying around the stump. Occasionally one would light upon the stump or swoop down and touch the water. The bullfrog crouched still and when the time was right he lunged at the dragon fly and snapped it up. Once I happened to glance down at the right time and saw the bullfrog leap out of the water, catch a dragon fly in its mouth, and land at least twelve inches from where he started. Another time the bullfrog leaped completely over one branch of the tree stump. This was the first time I had ever been entertained by a bullfrog and dragon flies. The show was fascinating to watch and got in the way of my reading.

Next I went back up to my room, packed up, and headed out the door for home. The day was just what I needed. The weather could not have been nicer. The entertainment (caterpillar, deer, bullfrog, and dragon files) was awesome. And I caught up with my soul in a much-needed manner over the course of the 7 1/2 hours I spent at the Abbey. Thanks be to God!

Sunday, October 3, 2010


Heather and I are going to Europe in November thanks to the travel voucher the church gave us this summer in recognition of my 25th anniversary at Canby Alliance Church. We are set to leave on November 4th to visit Prague and Paris.

Our first stop is going to be Prague in the Czech Republic. We were first attracted to Prague because of its reasonable prices (Europe can be very expensive). Over the past two months we have discovered that a number of people we know have visited Prague and highly recommend it. Prague escaped heavy bombing during World War II. Therefore its city center has the charming feel of an old world city. We are going to stay in a family-run hotel just a couple of blocks from the Old Town Square. Our plan is to put our feet to work and walk to as many places as we can on Prague's cobblestone streets. Most of the tourist sights can be found in a two square mile area.

After six days in Prague we are going to fly to Paris for four days. We will be staying in a fairly small hotel in the St. Germain des Pres section of the Latin Quarter. I stayed here four years ago on the way back from Africa. The hotel is located close to a number of famous cafes including one Ernest Hemingway frequented and helped put on the map in the 1920s. The oldest church in Paris, L'Lglise Saint-Germain des Pres, first completed in 558 and enlarged in 1163, is just around the corner. What I remember most about this area are the open markets, bakeries, cafes, and restaurants within just a block or two of the hotel.

We have limited ourselves to only visit two cities. The main reason for the trip is time together and time to rest. While we plan to do some sight-seeing we are going to carve out large chunks of time for reading, relaxation, and simply being together enjoying a nice meal, a good cup of European coffee, or a long walk exploring part of Prague or Paris.

We are overwhelmed with gratitude for the church's generosity and love. And we can hardly wait for November 4th to roll around!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Mt. Borah

On Tuesday, September 7th at 12:15pm we stepped foot on the summit of Mt. Borah, the tallest mountain in Idaho and Oregon with an elevation of 12,668 ft. The ascent took us 6 hours. I climbed the mountain with my nephew Josh (Menlo Park, CA.), my cousin Rick (Post Falls, ID.), my brother Brent (Emmett, ID.), and Brian a good friend from our church in Canby. We climbed the standard route which involves ascending 5,262 vertical feet from the trail head to the summit in just over 3.5 miles.

We arrived at the trail head Monday afternoon and set up our camp. The trail head sits at an elevation of 7200 ft . For comparison-sake, Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood sits at an elevation of 5960 ft. while Silcox Hut is located at 6950 ft. We watched a few climbers return from the mountain after a long day of climbing. All of them looked tired, sore, and thirsty. I remember one individual who looked to be in his late 50s or early 60s. He looked spent. The back of his pants were ripped where he must have fallen or snagged his pants on something. He repeated a couple of times, "Don't underestimate the final 800 ft. to the summit."

We ate dinner, built a fire, stood around the fire and talked, and then went to bed by 9pm. The mountain night was cold. The temperature slipped down below freezing. It took me a few hours to fall asleep. I tossed and turned in my sleeping bag. I could not shut off my mind. I was excited about the climb. I nursed a few fears as well (I don't do cold very well and I am afraid of heights!).

Finally I drifted off to sleep and was awakened by Rick's voice telling us it was 5:10am and time to get going. We had planned to wake up at 4am but Brian's phone was still on Pacific Standard Time so we got a late start - get dressed, bathroom, hot coffee, peanut butter bagel, get out gloves, hat, trekking poles, and make one last rifling through my backpack to make sure I had everything. We hit the trail at 6:15am, our headlamps lighting the trail before us.

Starting to climb felt good. It took off the cold except for my fingertips which started to numb up. Brian loaned me a pair of leather gloves that I put on over my gloves and within minutes my fingertips warmed up.

Brian led the way up the trail and Josh took up the rear. Brent, Rick & I traded off the middle spots as we climbed. Periodically we stopped to drink water, eat a snack, use the bathroom, adjust our packs or take off a layer or two of clothing.

Eventually we came to the base of Chicken Out Ridge, aptly named, at 11,300 ft. The trail ended at its base. We stashed away our trekking poles and began scrambling up its rock face. The climb turned steeper than what we'd experienced so far. The rock was excellent for climbing - hard, solid, full of foot and finger grips. The view was awesome and the wind ripped at our coats. This part of the climb was not for the timid. One slip and there was nothing to catch you for a couple thousand feet. My fear of heights was tested with almost every step I took. Even though I tried to enjoy the amazing view all around me I concentrated on keeping my head zeroed in on the next 5-10 feet I had to climb.

Instead of going up and directly over COR Brian led us on a path that veered off to the left side of the top. The fall-off on our left side was steep and several thousand feet down. We came to a 15-20 ft. snow field we had to cross. Thankfully the trail across it provided us with fairly good footing - dirt and gravel thrown over ice. There were several holes in the wall of snow and ice at eye level that you could use as finger grips to help navigate your way across the snow. I leaned into the snow and gingerly made my way across. I tried hard not to think about what would happen if I slipped and fell. I felt a huge sense of relief when all 5 of us were standing on the other side of the snow field.

Now we enjoyed a good but narrow trail (again a fairly steep drop off to our left) that took us across mostly level terrain until we reached Knife Edge just below the summit. The snow on the ledge was almost gone which meant we could walk across Knife Edge on dry ground. The summit was all that was left - 800 ft above us. The trail was windy and very steep. We decided to make our own way up to the summit instead of following the trail - a climber who was coming down from the summit just as we were going up told us the trail had some loose rock toward the top. First Brian, then Rick, then me, followed by Brent and Josh close behind us.

It must have taken us 30-45 minutes to climb that last 800 ft. Finally I looked up and saw the American flag flapping in the wind on the summit. Brian and Rick stopped short of the summit and let me be the first one to step foot on the top since the climb had been my idea. Before long all 5 of us were on the summit congratulating one another, slapping each other's backs, and posing for pictures. 2 climbers followed us up the summit so they took our pictures on top and we took theirs.

I can't adequately explain what I felt inside - joy, thanksgiving, relief, and a sense of accomplishment. To bask in the beauty of a 360 degree view of the Idaho wilderness was something I will never forget. We were literally on top of Idaho and Oregon. I felt a special bond to Brent, Rick, Josh, and Brian that could only come from climbing together.

The descent off the summit went well. Climbing down is always more dangerous than climbing up. You have the pull of gravity to do battle with in a manner that you don't on your ascent. Plus you are tired and weary from all the energy - physical, emotional, and mental - exerted on the climb up. Plus your knees, ankles, and feet take more of a pounding coming down.

I began to dehydrate on our descent. Brian was alert enough to pick up on how I looked and the fact that I wasn't stopping to pee like everyone else! He gave me some electrolyte powder for the last remaining bit of my water. I drank it and felt better almost immediately. Before we made it back to the trial head Brian gave me his last bottle of water as well as the last of the water he had left in his bladder. I don't know what I would have done without his help!

The climb up and down took us a little more than 12 hours. Dinner was buffalo back strap that Brent had marinated and then
barbecued for us. It was delicious, melted in our mouths, and was the perfect post-climb celebratory meal! All of us went to bed soon after dark and slept like logs - 10 1/2 hours for me which is really rare. We were exhausted, happy, thankful, relieved, and praising God for a safe climb!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Camping and Climbing

I can hardly wait. Tomorrow I jump on a Southwest Airlines flight and fly to Boise. My parents will pick me up at the airport. I will spend a day with them in Boise on Thursday. Friday morning my dad and I will load up his truck and we'll head to our favorite camping spot on the Crooked River about 80 miles northeast of Boise. We literally camp at the end of the road. No amenities. No fellow campers. No nothing except us, the Crooked River, the friendly deer who wander through our camp spot, and our good friend the camp fire. My two brothers (Ted and Brent) will join us before the sun goes down. We talk, laugh, tell stories, look at the stars, eat lots of good food, go hiking or ride the 4 wheelers, take a trip up to the Jackson Peak Lookout, sleep like a log, stare into the campfire, and enjoy a few days away from cell phones, email, texting, traffic, and civilization in general. What makes this special is my dad is 89 years old (young) and this is the highlight of his year! We are going to keep doing this for as long as we can.

We will drive out Sunday afternoon. Once home we'll shower, unpack, and then Brent and I will repack. Monday morning we leave for Mt. Borah in the Lost River Range, a 4 1/2 hour drive from Boise. Five of us will attempt to summit the mountain on Tuesday morning - me, Brent, my cousin Rick from Post Falls, Idaho, my nephew Josh from the Bay area, and my friend Brian Keil from Canby. We plan to hit the trail at 4am and hope to summit between 10am-11am.

Mt. Borah stands at 12, 662 feet. We are looking at a 5262 feet vertical climb in just over 3.5 miles. The exciting section of the climb will be Chicken Out Ridge, aptly named, at 11,000 feet, a class 3 scramble up and over a rock ridge that falls steeply off on each side. For someone who is not fond of heights, like me, Chicken Out Ridge is going to be a challenge.

I promise a report and pictures when I return!

Friday, August 27, 2010

J.C. Ryle

The last several years I have spent a lot of time thinking about growth and change. It seems to me that if what we believe is true about Jesus Christ living inside our lives by the person of his Spirit, there should follow signs or indications of his presence. After all, how could the God of the universe take up residence in my life and something not give or change?!

And yet. What do I see and experience? Am I being stretched by growth pains? Am I really all that different today from who I was two or ten or fifteen or twenty years ago? Has "Christ in you" (me) (Colossians 1:27) radically altered who I am, how I think, what I say, where I go, how I spend my time and money, or what I live for? And yet.

Transformation of our lives is to be the norm for Christ-followers - "For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son" (Romans 8:29); "And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3:18); and "My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you" (Galatians 4:19). Conformed, transformed, formed all point to the same spiritual reality - there is to be less of Tim and more of Christ in my life as time goes on.

The painstakingly slow process of spiritual growth can be discouraging. Recently I was reminded of a theological truth that provided encouragement. I was reading J.C. Ryle's classic book on Holiness written in 1877. In a section of how justification and sanctification differ Ryle writes, "Justification is a finished and complete work, and a man is perfectly justified the moment he believes. Sanctification is an imperfect work, comparatively, and will never be perfected until we reach heaven. Justification admits of no growth or increase: a man is as much justified the hour he first comes to Christ by faith as he will be to all eternity. Sanctification is eminently a progressive work, and admits of continual growth and enlargement so long as a man lives." Ryle wants us to realize that justification is instant but sanctification is gradual.

Ryle again, "Let us not expect too much from our own hearts here below. At our best we shall find in ourselves daily cause for humiliation, and discover that we are needy debtors to mercy and grace every hour. The more light we have, the more we shall see our own imperfection. Sinners we were when we began, sinner we shall find ourselves as we go on; renewed, pardoned, justified - yet sinners to the very last. Our absolute perfection is yet to come, and the expectation of it is on reason why we should long for heaven."

Don't mistake Ryle as someone who is soft on sin. He takes sanctification just as seriously as he takes justification. He works hard not to confuse the two. And all through Holiness he persistently fixes our attention upon Jesus, "The Lord Jesus has undertaken everything that His people's souls require; not only to deliver them from the guilt of their sins by His atoning death, but from the dominion of their sins, by placing in their hearts the Holy Spirit; not only to justify them , but also to sanctify them."

I am thankful for these good words from J.C. Ryle!

Friday, July 30, 2010

25 Years - early memories

Being asked by a Board member during my interview what I thought about "picture shows" (movies)? The implication being I shouldn't think anything but bad about them and not encourage people from the church to attend movies.

Telling Heather that even though I had accepted the church's offer to become their Senior Pastor I had no idea what they were going to pay me. Salary never came up in any of our discussions and I didn't think it was right for me to bring it up.

Feeling really young since just about every adult in the church was older than me and wondering how I was going to lead and pastor people who had me beat in years, experience, and wisdom.

Being told in the first few weeks by two elders that even though they thought highly of me they did not vote for my coming because they thought I was too young and couldn't do the job.

Driving up to Willamette Falls Hospital on my first day on the job to visit an elderly man from the church, walking into his room, and being told by his wife who was standing over him that he had died just a few minutes earlier. I did my first funeral before I preached my first sermon.

Sitting at my desk in my office trying to figure out how to schedule my time, set my priorities, work by a list of goals, and find out from God what I was supposed to preach on as I got started.

Choosing the book, Well-Intentioned Dragons, to read with my elders in hopes of setting the expectations by which we would serve together ( gives this description of the book -
"Every church has them - sincere, well-meaning Christians who leave ulcers, strained relationships, and hard feelings in their wake. They don't intend to be difficult; they don't consciously plot destruction or breed discontent among the members. But they often do undermine the ministry of the church and make pastors question their calling. Based on real-life stories of battle-scarred veterans, Marshall Shelley presents a clear picture of God's love for those on both sides of the problem. He describes tested strategies to communicate that love and turn dissidents into disciples."

Setting a first-year goal of visiting every family in their home for the purpose of interviewing them regarding their feelings about the church and assuring them of my love and hope for the future.

Encountering more hurt and wounded people than I expected to find, quickly realizing my limitations, and learning to pray out of desperation, fear, and longing.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards (October 5, 1703 - March 22, 1758) has been called America's greatest theologian and most influential thinker. During his life time he worked as a parish pastor, missionary, and college teacher. He published many books and works which have never gone out of print and are widely read today.

One of my goals this summer is to both read about Jonathan Edwards and read him. A couple of months ago I read Jonathan Edwards And The Ministry Of The Word: A Model of Faith and Thought by Douglas A. Sweeney who has published a number of works on Edwards and knows his subject well.

This morning I started reading Jonathan Edwards on Beauty edited by Owen Strachan and Douglas Sweeney from The Essential Edwards Collection published by Moody Publishers. The book has five chapters on the beauty of God, Creation, Christ, the Church, and the Trinitarian Afterlife.

Edwards identified seven attributes that demonstrate God's beauty - eternality and self-existence, greatness, loveliness, power, wisdom, holiness, and goodness.

I was struck by something Edwards wrote about God's goodness, "God delights in the welfare and prosperity of his creatures; he delights in the making of them exceeding happy and blessed, if they will but accept of the happiness which he offers." Edwards asserted of God's goodness, "this is goodness that never was, never will, never can be paralleled by any other beings." When kings give good things to their subjects, "they do but give that which the Almighty before gave to them."

According to Edwards God's greatest gift of goodness is seen in the giving and self-sacrifice of his Son for the sin of the world. "There never was such an instance of goodness, mercy, pity, and compassion since the world began; all the mercy and goodness amongst creatures fall infinitely short of this."

It is plain to see that I am going to feast on Edwards over the next several days. He is God-centered in a manner in which few of us are today.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Pursuit of God

In 1948 A. W. Tozer wrote The Pursuit of God. I was given the book shortly after I became a Christ-follower in 1974. I read it soon after. And I have read it many, many times since. Next to the Bible, I have read The Pursuit of God more than any other book in my library. Right now I am on another Pursuit reading binge. I read the book in May and I continue to pick it up in June to re-read highlighted passages. Unlike any other book, Pursuit draws me in every time I pick it up. Though I am familiar with its content it always seems new when I go back to it.

One chapter that has grabbed my attention of late is "The Universal Presence." Here are a few favorite quotes:
"What now does the divine immanence mean in direct Christian experience? It means simply that God is here. Wherever we are, God is here. There is no place, there can be no place, where he is not. No one is in mere distance any further from or any nearer to God than any other person is. (p. 62)

"The Presence and the manifestation of the Presence are not the same. There can be one without the other. God is here when we are wholly unaware of His Presence. His manifest
only when and as we are aware of His Presence. (p. 64)

"The approach of God to the soul or of the soul to God is not to be thought of in spatial terms
at all. There is no idea of physical distance involved in the concept. It is not a matter of miles but of experience. (p. 65)

"I venture to suggest that the one vital quality which they (those in history who knew God
intimately) had in common was spiritual receptivity. Something in them was open to heaven, something urged them Godward. They had spiritual awareness and they went on to cultivate it until it became the biggest thing in their lives. They acquired the lifelong habit of spiritual response." (p. 67)

Lord Christ, I pray for spiritual receptivity. I want to be open to heaven. I desire to live with a Godward look. Increase my spiritual awareness. Show me how to cultivate this. Grant me the lifelong habit of spiritual response. In Jesus name, Amen.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Admiration of the Godhead

"Some of the most rapturous moments we know will be those we spend in reverent admiration of the Godhead. So let us begin with God. Back of all, above all, before all is God: first in sequential order, above in rank and station, exalted in dignity and honor. As the self-existent One He gave being to all things, and all things exist out of Him and for Him.
'Thou are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou has created all
things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.'

Every soul belongs to God and exists by His pleasure. God being Who and What He is, and we being who and what we are, the only thinkable relation between us is one of full lordship on His part and complete submission on ours. We owe Him every honor that it is in our power to give Him. Our everlasting grief lies in giving Him anything less."
(A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God, p. 101-02)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The words of others

Rather than write something myself I want to share some favorite words of others with you in this post. These are quotes I have come across in my reading over the past several weeks. I will let them stand on their own:

C. S. Lewis
“For my own part, I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books, and I rather suspect that the same experience may await others. I believe that many who find that ‘nothing happens’ when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.”

C. H. Spurgeon
The minister who does not earnestly pray over his work must surely be a vain and conceited man. He acts as if he thought himself sufficient of himself and therefore needed not to appeal to God.

E. H. Peterson
I realized that this was my place and work in the church, to be a witness to the truth that dazzles gradually. I would be a witness to the Holy Spirit's formation of congregation out of this mixed bag of humanity that is my congregation - broken, hobbled, crippled, sexually abused and spiritually abused, emotionally unstable, passive and passive-aggressive, neurotic men and women. Men at fifty who have failed a dozen times and know that they will never amount to anything. Women who have been ignored and scorned and abused in a marriage in which they have been faithful. People living with children and spouses deep in addiction. Also fresh converts excited to be in on this new life. Spirited young people, energetic and eager to be guided into a life of love, compassion, mission and evangelism. A few seasoned saints who know how to pray and listen and endure. And a considerable number of people who pretty much just show up. I wonder why they bother. There they are. The hot, the cold, the lukewarm, Christians, half-Christians, almost Christians. New-agers, angry ex-Catholics, sweet new converts. I didn't choose them. I don't get to choose them.

John Stott
When I enter the pulpit with the Bible in my hands and in my heart, my blood begins to flow and my eyes sparkle for the sheer glory of having God's Word to expound. We need to emphasize the glory, the privilege, of sharing God's truth with people.

Jonathan Edwards
Oftentimes in reading it (the Bible), every word seemed to touch my heart. I felt a harmony between something in my heart, and those sweet and powerful words. I seemed often to see so much light, exhibited by every sentence, and such a refreshing ravishing food communicated, that I could not get along in reading. Used oftentimes to dwell long on one sentence, to see the wonders contained in it; and yet almost every sentence seemed to be full of wonders.

Ernest Hemingway
You can't get away from yourself by moving from one place to another (Jake Barnes to Robert Cohn in The Sun Also Rises).

George Herbert
He that will learn to pray, let him go to sea.

Frederick Buechner
For the first time in my life that year in New York I started going to church regularly. My reason for going was simply that on the same block when I lived there happened to be a church with a preacher I had heard of and that I had nothing all that much better to do with my lonely Sundays. And then there came one particular sermon with on particular phrase in it that does not even appear in a transcript of his words that somebody sent me more than twenty-five years later so I can only assume that he must have dreamed it up a the last minute and ad-libbed it - and on just such foolish, tenuous, holy threads as that, I suppose, hang the destinies of us all. Jesus Christ refused the crown that Satan offered him in the wilderness, Buttrick said, but he is king nonetheless because again and again he is crowned in the heart of the people who believe in him. And that inward coronation takes place, Buttrick said, 'among confession, and tears, and great laughter.' It was the phrase 'great laugher' that did it, did whatever it was that I believe must have been hiddenly in the doing all the years of my journey up till then. It was not so much that a door opened as that I suddenly found a door had been open all along which I had only just then stumbled upon.

Patti Griffin
When you're lost and you're found
And you're found and you're lost
And you're dancing with no one around
You're coming home to me, just remember
You're coming home to me.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

This people

The last two and one-half weeks have been pastorally taxing. The biting, gasping reality of cancer. Graveside service for a well-loved mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. An extended period of fasting for Holy Week. Humble confession of my past leadership failures to old friends and talk of how that caused them great pain. The sudden, unexpected death of Emma Knopp in a car accident. Two full services to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter morning. Emma's graveside service followed by her memorial service attended by 750 people, the largest group of people ever to assemble at CAC. Chairing an Administrative Board meeting dominated by our discussion of church finances not keeping up with expenditures for the last five months. Reaching deep into the bottom of the barrel to come up with a message for Sunday morning. Facilitating a group of John Barber's family and friends to remember his death in a motorcycle accident one year ago at the place he died just across the Columbia River from Astoria. And there's more that must be kept confidential in honor of those who have let me into their pain, struggles, and setbacks.

But interspersed with the above were some moments of light, laughter, and fun. Like Hannah coming home from the University of Oregon for the weekend to celebrate Easter. Like going to hear Patty Griffin and Buddy Miller in concert at the Crystal Ballroom. Like enjoying our favorite food at Pho Van's restaurant with four other couples from CAC.

Today was my sabbath day. I try to take Thursday for myself, to do whatever I have to do to bring rest and renewal to my soul, mind, emotions, and body. I got up early and drove into Portland to one of my favorite coffee shops. I read. I journaled. I sat and stared into space. I people-watched. I tired to relax and let go of everything I was carrying. I listened to Patty Griffin blaring out of my car speakers on the drive into Portland and back to Canby. I swam one thousand yards. I ate Pad Thai for lunch. I took a nap. I read a few of my favorite blogs. I ran four miles and listened to an interview on my iPod with a philosopher-theologian-church planter from southern California on the challenges of leading a church in our postmodern culture. I ate dinner and spent some time with my family. It has been a good day and I am thankful to be alive!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Africa memories

Our plane touched down at PDX on Saturday, February 6. April is coming fast. I am settled back into my "home" and "work" routine. I do not wake up at 2:45am - wide awake - anymore. My jet lag is long gone. Any facial sun tan I brought back with me has faded. The sights, smells, and sounds of Sierra Leone and Guinea slip farther back into my memory bank. What memories now rise to the surface?

Life is hard for the majority of people in West Africa. Heat and humidity. Poverty and unemployment. Sickness and disease. The lack of clean water and consistent electricity. All are a daily reality. This is not to mention the struggle to find enough food to eat every day when you don't have a job or the job you do have pays you very little. People by the thousands live day-to-day, hand-to-mouth. And yet they march on, day after day in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. They find a way to exist and live. And many of them discover a way to live joyfully while surrounded by daunting circumstances. To put it mildly, West Africans are a resilient people. I am humbled by their perseverance.

My Africa team is the best (shown in the photo with the 5 Susu men we spent 2 1/2 days with on retreat in Guinea). We spent almost two weeks together under some challenging circumstances - jet lag and adjusting to a new culture, place, people, and food. And all of this without argument, conflict, or differences. Call that a miracle! We enjoyed being together. We helped each other when assistance or encouragement were needed. We laughed together more than I have laughed in years! We got to the place where we could begin to finish each other's sentences. We endured each other's jokes. We looked beyond our respective quirks. We found acceptance in our brokenness and weaknesses. We were truly a team.

We spent the majority of our time in West Africa at the "Sesay Cafe by the Sea." The home of Sam and Josephine Sesay in Lungi, Sierra Leone. They not only took us into their home; they ushered us into their hearts. They treated us like family. We felt like family. We shared space, time, food, conversation, laughter, and prayer together. The rhythm of African life worked its way into our daily existence. It wasn't so much white skin touching black skin as it was people from two vastly different continents and cultures touching each other at a below-the-surface level. The Sesay's are an incredible family. We are the better, I am the better, for having rubbed shoulders and hearts with them.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Footprints on our hearts

I recently read a new book on leadership entitled Leaders Who Last by Dave Kraft published by Crossway Books. Kraft writes about sitting with one of his daughters in the office of her high school counselor. They were discussing an issue concerning his daughter. On the wall behind the counselor was a collage that stole his attention. There were dozens of pictures of the counselor's students at football games, school outings, proms, etc. Right in the middle of it all was a quote -

Some people come into our lives and quietly go. Others stay awhile, and leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never the same.

Kraft lost track of the conversation and lost track of time. He was mesmerized by the quote. He prayed under his breath, "Lord, make me a person who leaves footprints in people's lives. I don't want to be a person who comes and goes with no lasting impact. May I be a person who intentionally and lastingly influences others."

At short time before this experience Kraft had been asked by his supervisor in Stockholm, Sweden, "So, if you could do anything, what would you want to do?" Kraft could not give him an answer. He was thirty-eight years old and had served on the staff of The Navigators for ten years. He was experiencing a lack of motivation, uncertainty, and no clear joy or direction in his ministry assignment in Sweden.

This led to Kraft getting away for a few days to pray, fast, and think things through. He hid away for three days to wrestle in prayer. He took a Bible, a legal pad, a couple of books, and most importantly, a strong sense of determine not to come back until he had some sense of direction.

He developed a list of things he should be doing that truly expressed who God had made him to be. Eventually he and his family left Sweden and returned to the United States. Over time a strong sense of purpose began to emerge. The crowning moment occurred when he read the quote mentioned above on his old high school campus.

Kraft is now seventy years old. A short time after visiting the office of his daughter's counselor he wrote down his life purpose statement -

To leave footprints in the hearts of God-hungry leaders who multiply.

Kraft discovered his life purpose - "I was designed to be in the leadership development business. I mentor, coach, and invest in the next generation of leaders. That is my purpose, my unique contribution to the body of Christ and the kingdom of God. I want to leave footprints in the lives of people - not just any person, but leaders and influencers who are hungry for God."

Hm mm. What is my life purpose statement? What is yours?

Kraft suggests a few steps to help us along the road to identifying our purpose -
  1. Record Bible passages God has applied to your life.
  2. Reflect on how God has used you in the past.
  3. Determine what you are passionate about.
  4. List your known gifts and strengths.
  5. Delineate what you have excelled at in your work experience.
  6. Define what action words best describe what you like to do.
  7. Write down what you enjoy doing in your free time.
  8. Reread all your answers.
  9. Take notes of common themes.
  10. Write down key words or ideas that repeat.
  11. Summarize those key words in a short, energizing statement about yourself.
May God graciously lead us down the road of living our lives with powerful purpose!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Faith as its meant to be

Charles Malik served as the Lebanese Ambassador to the United States and President of the United Nations General Assembly in the 1950s. On September 13, 1980 he gave an address called "The Two Tasks" at the opening of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. The following quote reflects the personal and public scope of his Christian commitment - "I speak to you as a Christian. Jesus Christ is my Lord and God and Savior and Song day and night. I can live without food, without drink, without sleep, without air, but I cannot live without Jesus. Without him I would have perished long ago. Without him and his church reconciling men to God, the world would have perished long ago. I live in and on the Bible for long hours every day. The Bible is the source of every good thought and impulse I have. In the Bible, God himself, the Creator of everything from nothing, speaks to me and to the world directly, about himself, about ourselves, and about his will for the course of events and for the consummation of history. And believe me, not a day passes without my crying from the bottom of my heart, 'Come, Lord Jesus.'"

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Mary Karr on Prayer

Mary Karr is the author of the bestselling 1995 memoir The Liars' Club, its sequel Cherry, and the recently published third installment Lit. She is also an award-winning poet. Lit covers the period of her alcoholism and move to sobriety, her failed marriage, and her conversion to Christ via her entrance into the Roman Catholic Church.

In an interview with Jon Sweeney in the pages of Books and Culture (March/April 2010, p. 15), Karr made this comment about prayer - "I pray not from being particularly devoted or righteous, but because I'm particularly desperate." It seems to me that desperation is at the heart of some of my (our) most passionate and deepest prayers. I do pray out of devotion, my love for our Triune God of grace. I do pray out of being righteous, that sense of trying to do what pious people do. My prayers of devotion are truly inward and meaningful but not always enduring. My prayers of righteousness are often short, mechanical, and of a surface nature. But my prayers of desperation come from deep within my soul, can be blood-stained, and cry out for God's intervention and mercy.

Paul Miller in his book A Praying Life makes the point that our best prayers come from a realization that God is both infinitely powerful and infinitely caring. I pray because God can accomplish what I can't. I pray because God truly cares about me even if I feel I'm simply a speck of dust in his vast, immeasurable universe.

An infinitely powerful and caring God understands our desperation and desires to turn it into devotion. How so? We cry out in desperation. God hears and answers. Our gratitude gives birth to devotion. But what about when God does not hear and answer our desperate cries as we wish? Devotion can still bloom if we grapple with the fact that our infinitely good God knows what is best for us and, because of this, sometimes denies us what we so urgently desire. Unanswered prayer is answered prayer.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Johnny Cash

This week I downloaded the latest release of Johnny Cash's music from - American VI: Ain't No Grave - 10 songs for $3.99 (I only paid $.99 thanks to the $3 credit I forgot about). This is the sixth and final installment of Cash's critically acclaimed American Recordings album series. Cash sings about the pursuit of salvation, the importance of friendship, the dream of peace, the power of faith, and the joy and adversities that entail simple survival.

My favorite is Ain't No Grave, a hauntingly fearless and strong proclamation of his resurrection from the dead -
There ain't no grave can hold my body down
There ain't no grave can hold my body down
When I hear the trumpet sound
I'm gonna rise right out of the ground
Ain't no grave can hold my body down
Guitar, keyboard, percussion, and church bells combine with Cash's signature sound to give voice to the certainty of resurrection for the follower of Christ. You can hear the personal conviction evident in Cash's singing of these resurrection lyrics.

Following Ash Wednesday, in the beginning days of Lent, on our way to Easter Sunday morning, Ain't No Grave is now part of my Lenten experience. Check it our for yourself.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


This is a picture of Gav, the team's "child magnet" in Africa. We walked down to the beach one afternoon below Sam and Josephine's house. These boys appeared out of nowhere. They loved having their picture taken. When you showed it to them they started pointing at the camera, eyes growing bigger, laughing, and talking to each other in their native language (since Sierra Leone was a British Colony, the people speak English).

Even though Sierra Leone has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world, young children are everywhere - walking to or from the school in their uniforms, playing on the beach, running between houses (fences don't exist in Lungi), playing soccer, congregating under shade trees talking and laughing, or carrying food or water on their heads (mostly girls).

Children in Lungi, a town of about 20,000 across the bay from Freetown where Sam andJosephine live, have the run of the town. It's not uncommon for them to take off from home, roam the neighborhood, and be gone for hours at a time. Everyone feels (is) safe. It reminded me of my childhood where on a summer day I could disappear with my friends for most of the day and wander all over my part of town and it was no big deal. Moms didn't worry back then like they do now. It was a safer time.

When Gav and I took our afternoon hike down to the beach a little six year old boy tagged along. I didn't notice him at first. But as we made the big turn and started walking back to Sesay's by another route I pointed him out to Gav who told me he had been following us the whole way. Sheku told me his name was Alpha and he was Hawanatu's son (Sheku is the pastor of the Susu Gospel Ministries church in Lungi and Hawanatu runs the ministry's preschool). Alpha had wandered away from home and made his way to Sam's and then he came with us. He was a long way from home. His mother didn't know where he was and it was no big deal.

I was struck by the freedom Lungi afforded Alpha. Lungi was a safe place. I saw Hawanatu at church the next day and mentioned how Alpha followed us to the beach and hung around with us for a couple of hours. She smiled and reported that it was common for him to disappear for hours at at time like that. She wasn't worried because she knew he was safe. Everyone watches out for each other's children. In this sense, Africa felt like a welcome step back in time.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Africa impressions

After we hit the ground in Africa the first thing I noticed was the unrelenting heat and humidity. Sweat drips down your forehead and runs down your back. I remember new waves of sweat appearing as I dried off from my shower to wash off the sweat. Any breeze of almost any kind is welcome relief. A fan brings a smile to my face. And air conditioning, the little that seems to be available, is like entering into another world. One afternoon we took the temperature a few feet away from the shade tree we were sitting under - it was 108.5 degrees in the sun. The shade measured 94 degrees. We didn't venture out into the direct sunlight unless we had to.

Since there was little or no electricity in the parts of Sierra Leone and Guinea we visited the nights were pitch black, blacker than anything I can remember experiencing back home. Both nights we stayed in an African motel in Tanene I stayed outside after the others had gone to bed. I wanted to peer up at the night sky and feel its vastness and awesomeness. There was literally no man-produced light anywhere. The stars seemed bigger and brighter. The striking contrast between light and dark, black and white was stunning. I saw clusters of far-away stars that I had never noticed before. Orion lay straight above me and shined brilliantly like it was lit up by neon lights. I felt like a pin head, a grain of sand, a speck of dust.

I will never forget the taste of cold water. In the African heat drinking lots of water is a necessity in order to avoid dehydration. We drank filtered and bottled water. Ice is hard to come by because electricity is hard to come by. What you end up doing is drinking lots of lukewarm water on hot, hot days to quench your thirst (or at least attempt to). I have a memory of drinking a cold bottle of water. The situation surrounding the cold water is blurred in my mind. I know it was at Sam and Josephine's. The generator was running. This meant the refrigerator was running and the water was chilling. We walked into the house and were handed bottles of cold water. I quickly opened mine and took a long, deep drink. I will never forget that moment and how good and sweet and cold the water tasted. Simple things in Africa are huge.

While in Africa you eat like the Africans, at least we did for most of our trip. I developed three categories of food - the dishes I enjoyed, those that I was slowly learning to enjoy, and those that I wasn't sure if I could ever enjoy. The one thing I looked forward to eating most when I returned home was a Honey Crisp or Granny Smith apple. Either one would do. I craved a sweet, crisp, juicy apple. And to my great delight, when Heather and the girls picked me up at the airport, they brought me a cut-up Honey Crisp apple!

P.S. the picture is of me and Alliance missionary Phil Stombaugh standing outside the Alliance Guest House in Conakry, Guinea

Monday, February 15, 2010


Joseph is Sam and Josephine Sesay's youngest son. He is in his second year of pre-med studies at the medical school in Freetown. He dreams of one day becoming a medical doctor and joining his father in the Susu Gospel Ministry as the director of the medical clinic in Lungi. In addition he also has a vision for taking a mobile medical clinic to Sierra Leonean villages that lack medical facilities. Like father, like son. He has caught Sam's burden for reaching the Susu people with the love of Jesus Christ.

Academically Joseph is making a name for himself at the medical school. Intellectually he is extremely bright and gifted. Professors have cited his work to his classmates as an example of how assignments are to be done. But he is frustrated and discouraged by the social, political, and financial challenges he faces from his fellow students and professors - he is not from one of the leading tribes in Sierra Leone, Sam is not a medical doctor or a government minister, and his vision is not to become wealthy but to help the poor and needy in the name of Christ. Daily he faces prejudice and discrimenation at school. As students advance in their medical studies professors lean upon them for large bribes in order to stay in the program. Joseph knows of students who have been forced out because they either could not or would not pay their professor a bribe. In light of this, Joseph is ready to quit medical school and pursue an engineering degree if he cannot find a way to pursue his dream of becoming a medical doctor.

As I spoke with Joseph his eyes lit up as he told me about his new dream. The nearby West African nation of Ghana has the best medical school in the region. Ghana is more developed than Sierra Leone, the medical school is older, stronger, and more advanced, and Joseph could easily be accepted into the program given his academic credentials. He could enter their seven year program this fall and not miss a beat in the pursuit of his dream and calling.

Here is a young man with a heart for serving God among the Susu people of Sierra Leone. He is gifted by God intellectually and academically. He not only has a vision for medicine; he has a vision for using medicine to share Christ's love with the Susu people in uniting the treatment of both body and soul.

Pray for Joseph. Pray for God's clear direction. Pray for God's abundant provision. And pray for our CAC leadership as we consider his needs before our God.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Ministry of Presence

I met Fode for the first time in October of 2006. He was all decked out in Nike clothes and jewelry (African look-a-likes). Of the eight Susu men I met from the Hafia Church in Conakry, Guinea - former Muslims who were now Christ-followers - Fode stayed in the background and avoided the limelight. One morning he came to us very upset. I later learned from Phil Stombaugh (Alliance missionary) that Fode's grandmother had refused to acknowledge him the night before because of his faith in Jesus Christ.

Fast-forward thirty-nine months later. I meet Fode for the second time. One week ago today I spoke at a retreat that he attended with four other Susu Christ-followers. Our team joined them for two days and nights in the little village of Tanene about two hours north of Conakry. We stayed in an African motel. The accomodations were unlike any I have ever encountered before. A Motel 6 located on I-5 would suddenly become a 5-star motel in comparsion. Enough said.

This time Fode was decked out in his Adidas wardrobe. I immediately observed that he was a leader among his peers. In fact, he played a big part in planning most of the retreat - schedule, food, activities. Our last morning I was up early and met him outside at 5:45am - his had already been to the market and was setting out fresh bread for breakfast.

He listened intently to everything I shared. I watched him scratch out notes in his journal. He was articulate whenever he shared and evidenced a maturing understanding of his faith. There was a sense of self-confidence about him that was missing earlier.

The last evening of the retreat we walked into town to visit the market and grab something to drink and eat. The night was pitch black because of no electricity until we arrived in town. The night sky was bursting with star light. Orion was directly above us.

I started out walking with Fode. He understands very little English and speaks even less. We tried to have a conversation. I expressed my deep appreciation for his leadership at the retreat. He understood. And then he said something I'll never forget with excitement in his voice and a spring in his step, "I am so happy. I am so happy." I looked at him and caught his smile by the light of my flashlight which pointed forward. It was like he was saying "mission accomplished" or "we did it." I realized at that moment that our coming from Oregon to attend this retreat meant far more to Fode than I would ever know.

The ministry of presence is unbelievably important in Africa. Our presence at the retreat meant more to these Susu men than anything I said or could have said. They felt noticed, valued, affirmed, and loved. As Fode and I walked together into town I felt the same in my heart - "mission accomplished."

Sunday, February 7, 2010


Our plane touched ground in Portland Sunday at 7:30pm thirty-six hours after we left Sam & Josephine's home in Lungi for the airport. Ten days in Africa are now history. It is virtually impossible to communicate the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of West Africa. We were in two of the poorest countries in Africa and the whole world for that matter. The heat and humidity are suffocating. Air conditioning is hard to come by. Think 'sweat' for almost a solid ten days! One afternoon Pam used her clock-therometer to take the temperature - 108.5 in the sun. We ate African for the majority of the trip. We stayed with Sesays in their new home overlooking the ocean while in Sierra Leone. Josephine and their olderst daughter, Esther, are fantastic cooks. I named their place the Sesay Cafe by the Sea. Later this week I'll try to sit down and share a few memorable experiences. Right now my brain feels like it is in a thick fog.

Happy to be home safe and sound,
Fader Fader Timbo

Sunday, January 24, 2010


I am 95% packed & its only 4:45pm Sunday afternoon! I hope to get to bed before 9pm tonight. We have to be at the airport at 5am for our 7:40am departure to Washington, DC. Then onto Brussels, Belgium. Then onto Freetown, Sierra Leone. We'll be in route about 27-28 hours. It will be evening when we arrive in SL but mid-morning, Tuesday, here. We'll go right to bed & hit the ground running on Wednesday morning.

Most of our stay in Sierra Leone will be without electricity or running water. We'll be eating mostly African food. The people are intelligent, friendly, and fun to be around. They have very little by way of material things but they lives are full, full of love, relationships, gratitude, and humility.

Medical training (specifically for labor and childbirth) at the medical clinic in Lungi that Sam started 3 years ago AND going on a 3-day retreat with 8-10 new Susu Christ-followers in Guinea. That's our mission. Pam, Deanna & Bruce will take care of the medical part. I will take care of the teaching part. Gav will take care of everything else that comes along.

Here's how you can pray for us -
  1. God's provision of all of our financial needs
  2. safety & protection in travel
  3. favor in the eyes of the custom officials as we are bring a number of suitcases full of medical supplies & gifts for the Sesays & Stombaughs
  4. health while we're on the ground in SL & G
  5. filling of the Spirit for our service to our African brothers & sisters in Christ
  6. our families that we leave behind at home

All for now. Bless you. Africa, here we come!


Monday, January 18, 2010

The Spirit in the Gaps

Right now my life is a whirl-wind of activity. I cross items off of my "to do" list only to add new ones. I leave for a tw0-week trip to Africa in one week. The preparation seems endless. There is work to be done to get the church and staff ready for my absence. The separate "to do" list for the trip itself - packing, finalizing the schedule, supplies, emergency contact info for family members at home, securing travel visas, updating my vaccinations and securing needed prescriptions to ward off malaria and intestinal uprisings, and preparing four two-hour talks that I will give to new Christ-followers in Guinea and one sermon and one Bible study that I will give in Sierra Leone. And then last but certainly not least, the list of things to get to get my family and home ready for my absence.

Yesterday, Sunday, I arrived at the church shortly after 6am to pray and put the final touches on my sermon. I preached, faciliated my 2:42 Common Ground class. I ran home and grabbed a quick lunch before I sped off to Village Baptist Church in Beaverton for a ministry meeting. On the way home I stopped off at Powell's in Beaverton to buy Cormac McCarthy's The Crossing, part of what I hope to read on the plane over and leave as a gift to my friend Phil. Back home for a few mintues of rest before I left again to attend my small group meeting. Home for the rest of the evening to eat and then enjoy a "game" night with my family. I was asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

Early this morning over a cup of hot tea at home I reviewed my "to do" lists and created a final one for my last seven days at home. Today is Hannah's 19th birthday. I took her to Starbucks for coffee. Later we will take her out to lunch, home to open gifts and eat cheese cake, and then I'll drive her down to Eugene and her dorm room at the University of Oregon. Drive the 97 miles back home, go to bed, and fall asleep ticking items off my "to do" list for Tuesday. Each day this week, full from dawn to bedtime with important matters that need my attention right now.

I write all this to write this - the Spirit is in the gaps. I sensed his presence throughout the day on Sunday. I knew he was present today in my early morning planning, reading, and short bursts of prayer. He blessed the time I had over coffee with Hannah. The Spirit is in the gaps and he will guide, direct, lead, sustain, and empower me this week. He will keep it up while I'm in Africa. He will be present to my family while I'm on the opposite side of the world. I don't have to worry about CAC as he will be present in the lives of the staff and church leaders. After-all, it is Christ's church not mine.

The immediate presence and power of the Holy Spirit in our lives does not always translate into a calm, sane, and easy life. But the Spirit does bring calm, sanity, and ease in the midst of a crazy bunch of pre-Africa, Africa, and what will be, post-Africa weeks.

Thanks be to God,

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Word of the Lord

For the past thirty-five years I have tried to follow Christ. Imperfectly. Sometimes I feel like the blind leading the blind. Others times God's leading is crystal clear. In the past two weeks I believe God has given me three words to lead me into and guide me through 2010.

Jeremiah 33:3 (NASB) - "Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and mighty things which you do not know."

Luke 1:66 (ESV) - "For the hand of the Lord was upon him."

John 3:30 (ESV) - "He must increase but I must decrease."

Jeremiah is calling me to a year of prayer. Luke struck me with a desire for the hand of the Lord to rest up me. And John convicts me of my self-centeredness and tells me it is all about Jesus, not me.

Prayer. My need of God's hand and blessing. Pointing to Jesus.

God desires to move me into a deeper prayer life. I am collecting a list of needs, concerns, challenges, and dreams to aid the cause. The hand of the Lord upon me is a necessity. I can't if God doesn't. And it's time I find ways like never before to point others to Jesus even as I let John point me to Jesus.

Thanks be to God!