Monday, March 31, 2008

Help Yourself

Have you read the Biblical self-help course?

Take a stroll through your local Borders or Barnes and Noble stores and you will find a section filled with "self-help" books. You can find books entitled; "Create your own destiny," "Think and Grow Rich," and, ironically, even "Self-Help." Online, I came across a humorous list of suggested self-help book titles, such as; "Chicken-less Soup for the Vegetarian Soul" and my personal favorite; "7,000 Habits of Highly Compulsive People." Anyway, it is obvious that there are a lot of people looking for help from somewhere -- anywhere.

As people, subject to the fallen world we inhabit, we all need help at times. Our heavenly Father enjoys helping us. In fact, He helps us more than we often realize. The Bible proclaims, in Psalms 46:1, that He is an “ever-present help” in our time of need. We rely on the fact that the Lord will never leave us or forsake us -- that He is always there meeting needs and answering prayer.

There is an old saying; “The Lord helps those who help themselves.” That saying is not from the Bible, but it has a biblical foundation in the right context. Reading apostle Paul’s letters to Timothy actually sheds some helpful insight on that saying. You see, Paul recognized the need to let Timothy – and all Christians – know that God expects us to mature in Him and grow spiritually. In fact, God expects us to help ourselves.

So, here is Paul’s God-inspired advice for his son -- and my namesake -- in the faith. This can be called a spiritual self-help course for Christians, (though some may take issue with that terminology), and its good for us to visit and re-visit as we desire to grow in Christ.

1) Train Yourself.
Paul said; “train yourself to be godly.” (1 Timothy 4:7) Living a godly life takes training. It takes work and effort. We are expected to train ourselves to become more and more like Jesus. We aren’t automatically like Jesus. We become more like Jesus intentionally – not accidentally. We have to train ourselves to go to church at every opportunity, to pray daily and to read the Bible consistently.

2) Devote Yourself.
“Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13). Paul was encouraging the young minister, but the admonition is really applicable to all believers. We are to devote ourselves to the Word of God – to preaching and teaching that will enable us to grow in the faith. This is perhaps the best way for us to help ourselves, spiritually speaking.

3) Keep Yourself.
“Keep yourself pure” (1 Timothy 5:22). This is where the rubber meets the road. We need to understand that it is OUR responsibility to keep ourselves pure, to keep ourselves focused, to keep ourselves on-target and to keep ourselves in the faith. If we are to “keep on keeping on,” it is on us. It is called being faithful.

Too often, Christians think that it’s all on God and that they themselves have no part to play in their own Christian life. However, the above scriptures show that we do play an active part in our Christianity. Robert Schuler made a statement that I happen to agree with; “If it’s going to be, it’s up to me.” God has done his part. He gave us His grace, His word and His Spirit. It’s our turn now to do our part. It’s our turn now to help ourselves. We can help ourselves by training ourselves, devoting ourselves and keeping ourselves in the good purpose of God.

Does the Lord help those who help themselves?
When it comes to your Christianity...

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Balloons and Life

My balloon came down today.

It’s been 18 days since I returned home from India. When I arrived at LAX, I was greeted by a small group of friends and family who welcomed me home with hugs, signs, flower leis and balloons.

Upon getting back to my home, one of the balloons – a blue star – escaped from the rest of the bunch and made a break for freedom. It only got as far as to the top corner of our front room ceiling, however. Our house has vaulted ceilings and the one in the front room is the highest in our entire home, around 20 feet high. So I decided to leave the individualistic-minded balloon alone until it decided to come back down to earth, so-to-speak. I figured that a few days alone would be enough for it, but it had more helium-willpower than I had anticipated, staying nestled smugly aloft for nearly 18 days. Today, somewhat deflated and seemingly dejected, it came down. It's funny that, as long as it stayed up, I didn't give it much thought, but as soon as it came down, everyone noticed it.

So it got me thinking... "What do you do when your balloon comes down?" You see, in our lives there are times of elation and celebration. There are times of victory and big wins. There are times of extreme joy and being on cloud nine. There are times when everything goes great. But after every mountain top there tends to be a valley. So, what do you do when your balloon comes back down to earth?

For the person in sales, it may be the high of closing on a big account and then going into a dry spell of failing to get new accounts. For the medical worker, it may be the elation of saving a life, seeing them recover only to then lose another person the very same week. For the parent, it could be the joy of having children transform into the challenge of dealing with the teenage years. It could be relational. It could be emotional. It could be physical. It could be job-related. However, It’s always personal. Life oftentimes seems like the slogan to ABC’s old series Wide-World of Sports...“The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”

So what can we do when the balloons of our lives come crashing back down to earth? Here are a few important reminders -- that will help getting through those "down" times...

1) Realize that Life is Seasonal.
Sometimes we are up, sometimes down. Life has seasons. “To everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). There is a time to laugh and a time to cry. There is a time to mourn and a time to dance. There is no getting away from the seasons. We just need to recognize them for what they are. The rains of the autumn and winter bring the abundant beauty of the spring.

2) Understand that Tough Times Don’t Last.
Someone said, “Tough times don’t last, tough people do.” Bumper stickers aside, things DO happen in life. They happen to good people and they happen to bad people. As long as we live in this broken world, we will have to deal with its offspring. But the Bible offers us the hope of a brighter tomorrow; “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalms 30:5). The good news is that tough times, though they be a reality, are only momentary (see 2 Corinthians 4:17-18).

3) Through it All, God is With You.
One of the great titles of Jesus, in the Bible, is Emmanuel. That literally means; “God is with us.” What a comforting thought – to know that God IS with us. When we are up or when we are down, God is with us. When we feel good or feel bad, God is with us. When things are going great or when things are seemingly going nowhere, God is with us. He has given us His unbreakable promise that he would be with us always (Matthew 28:20).

Jesus loves us. He cares for us and He cares about us. That is why we should always look to Him. The Bible assures that if we keep trusting in the Lord, we won't be disappointed.

So when your balloon comes down, realize it’s seasonal, understand that it won’t last, and know that God is with you at all times. Be encouraged today. Another flight is on its way.

Yes, my balloon came down today.
But I’m not just a one-balloon life.

Neither are you.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

India Crusade Video Montage

This is a short video pictorial of the recent crusade that I was a part of in Tanuku, India. I thought you might enjoy checking it out.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Trader Joe's Knows

It is so L.A.

Yesterday afternoon I had to take my daughter, Tara, to a costume fitting at a costume shop. She is in her final high school production and for some reason they picked a costume shop that was located in Santa Monica, which is over a half hour away from Torrance. It was located somewhere on Pico Blvd, so I punched the address into my navigation unit and off we went.

The costume shop was located in a small shopping center that was anchored by a Trader Joe’s store. I like Trader Joe’s and shop at the one in south Torrance. With the boom in “green and organic” attitudes here in SoCal, health food has gone mainstream and driving it is, among others, Trader Joe’s.

So as I turned into the parking lot, I immediately stopped. It was crazy busy. There were far more cars and shoppers than there were parking spaces in the small lot. I was the fourth car back in a line of cars and just barely made it into the parking lot from Pico Blvd. There was also another line of cars coming off of the side street. All of us were waiting for spaces to open up and an attendant was directing us into the next open space as cars would leave. Realizing that we were not moving and that Tara’s appointment was that very minute, I had her get out of the car and go into the costume shop as I waited to park.

After 5 to 10 minutes, I had gotten to the front of my line and was unwilling to wait any longer. So, much to the dismay of the guy in the front of the other line, I pulled around the waiting cars and headed down the lane of the parking lot. Thinking I was getting ahead of him (even though I actually was ahead of him), he began to honk and swear at me as I made my maneuver around the waiting cars. I simply continued on through the parking lot and drove across the street into another parking lot with plenty of available parking spaces.

As I walked across the street and back through the parking with all the cars waiting to park, the thought struck me – this is so L.A.! This is the most health-conscious and looks-concerned capitol of the world, and yet, people won’t park across the street to walk an extra few steps to get to their favorite health food store! It was a beautiful day and there was plenty of parking available across the street, but that would mean walking an extra hundred feet of so – to go to a health food store. It kills me, it really does. These are the same people that will drive 2 or 3 miles to get to their health club where they then proceed to walk on a treadmill for 45 minutes. Why not save the gas and the cost of the club membership, and walk around the neighborhood or the park for an hour? Why not? It’s L.A. And it’s funny that way.

No wonder we need the health food stores.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Palm Trees & Praises

I live in Southern California. I was born and raised here. Ironically, the palm tree has become one of the symbols of L.A. You see it prominently visible in TV commercials, various advertisements and logos (like the picture to the right). Ironic in the fact that out of the over 2,500 species of palms, only one is actually indigenous to California. That would be the California Fan Palm, which is natural to the deserts of southeastern California – not the beaches along our coast.

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday and I’ve been thinking about the palm’s activity in the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem as recorded in John’s gospel (12:12-13). Just like what we distinctively recognize as the symbol of my city, there is something special about those palm trees. The question is, however, just what is it about the palms?

I find it rather interesting that the 92nd Psalm -- which is all about worship on the Sabbath day -- would include the following quote; "The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree.” The quote is from verse 12. The very next verse famously states; “those who are planted in the house of the Lord, shall flourish in the courts of our God.” So the writer is using the metaphor of the palm tree to describe the true worshiper.

The palm tree has several characteristics about it that actually mirror the life of the worshiper (ie: Christian). Let me share a few of them with you…

1. Palm Trees Bend, but don’t Break.
They are one of the few trees in the world that can survive even the fiercest storms that buffet them.

2. Palm Trees Cannot Remain Banded.
Most trees, when shackled by a band put around them, simply grow around the band. The palm tree though will not allow itself to be constrained by a band – it breaks the bands as it grows.

3. Palm Trees Flourish in the Desert Places.
The dry and arid climate that destroys most trees, are no problem for the palm. The palm thrives even in difficult surroundings and circumstances.

4. Palm Trees grouped together, become an Oasis.
The oasis provides shade and refreshing for hot and tired travelers.

In John 12, we see both the palms and the people. Two instruments of worship merging into one river of praise on Main Street in Jerusalem. It's triumphant and glorious. It's loud and animated. It's visual and vocal. And God loves it.

So on this Palm Sunday -- and every Sunday -- I will take my place as the metaphorical palm tree. Inviting and extolling Jesus with branches raised toward the sun and waving in thankful worship. Planted in God's house to be a source of blessing and praise for His glory. A tree of righteousness, the prophet stated -- the planting of the Lord.

Every Sunday should be Palm Sunday for the true worshiper.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Back in the USA!

I’m Back! A worn-out yours truly arrived at LAX this afternoon to a wonderful reception. The welcome wagon that came to greet me consisted of my wife, Karlene, my kids; Tara and Zac, My mother, plus Mel, Cathy & Mesha Po, and Kelly Sepulveda. They put flower leis around my neck and had a hugfest. It was great.

I started-out yesterday evening at the Hyderabad airport. I flew Lufthansa Airlines, and there had been a mistake on the seat assignments, so I was trying to get them corrected for the flights home. The young lady at the counter and I were not communicating, so I resigned to letting it go. Pastor Prem was impressed with how cool I was. He said that other pastors and missionaries from the United States that have been with him in the past would get all stressed-out and frustrated when things did not go right in similar situations in India. He said to me, “You just stay so cool, you never seem to get rattled.” I replied, “I just try to roll with the punches.” What are you gonna do?

Anyway, I got on board after 2:00am India time and began my two-leg, over 20 hour trip back to Los Angeles, back to Torrance, back to my very-missed family. Upon arriving home, I directly took a much-needed shower (which everyone was thankful for) and then headed with the family to Acapulco Café for a much-anticipated Mexican Food fix!

It is now 6:30pm Friday night and I’m fading. The miles and travel are catching up to me. But I sure am glad to be home.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

M&M's and Missions

Good-Bye India

I’ve run out of M&M’s, it’s time to come home.

Okay, I’m going to let you in on a silly little secret regarding my trip. As I was leaving from LAX, I stopped by one of the stores in the airport to get some See’s candy to take as a gift to the Mallipudi family. I also picked myself up a 5.5 ounce bag of Peanut M&M’s. I wanted to have something from home to stay with me (a little taste of the States while in India) and that touch point for me was M&M’s. What is more American than M&M’s? I have been nursing that bag of M&M’s since I have been here. Everyday, I have had 4 M&M’s and today the bag is empty – so it must be time to go home.

Well, this is my final blog from India. To all who have been following my adventure, thank-you for your prayers and words of encouragement. It is nearly 5:00 pm here, I am back in Hyderabad with Pastor Prem. We flew here this afternoon from the city that we were in last night, Visakhapatnam (say that ten times fast – I can’t even say it once). Even though I will be heading to the airport at about midnight, we took a hotel room. Pastor Prem and his brother-in-law will stay overnight here while I start my long journey back home. Pastor Prem has an appointment with the eye surgeon here, so it all worked out.

This morning, I had the complimentary breakfast buffet at the hotel. Everything here tastes just a little bit different than home. It’s kind of funny, I have been experiencing a craving for pancakes, which is strange, because I do not eat pancakes that often. At the buffet, they had pancakes. Unfortunately, they were not like American pancakes. So my craving went unsatisfied. I have also been craving Mexican food – which should surprise no one. 2 weeks without Mexican food is too long for me.

When I returned to my room, I heard firecrackers going off and a band playing. I looked out my window and saw a long procession of people who were heading to the ocean with all sorts of items. It looked like something was going on at the beach. Firecrackers kept going off all over the place. When Pastor Prem came to pick me up, I asked what was going on. He told me that today is a big Hindu holiday called Shiva-raatri and the people were going down to the ocean to dip (cleanse themselves) and then go to the temple to worship the god Shiva.

We were invited to lunch at Bishop A.G. Thankachan’s home. He was one of the speakers at the Convention. He has a great ministry throughout India with a television show and radio broadcasts. He preaches all over the world and is a very good preacher. I enjoyed him, because he preaches in English and I was able to understand what was being said. He is originally from another state, and speaks a different language. (Interestingly enough, there are 8 main languages in India – and they are not that similar.)
So when he preaches where they speak Telegu, he uses a translator, as I did. He is very good at it. I must admit that it takes some getting used to. Anyway, he showed us around his ministry center and Bible College. The Lord has blessed his ministry greatly here. After the tour, we then enjoyed a nice lunch prepared by his wife. We were pressed for time to catch our flight out of the smaller airport, so I prayed over him, his family and ministry – then we were off to fly back here to Hyderabad.

I will reiterate that I have been treated extremely well everywhere I have been in this Country. Of course, I stayed the whole time in one state – Andrha Pradesh – and have mostly been around Christians, which makes a difference also. However, even around non-Christians, I have been treated with courtesy and kindness. This is a great nation filled with wonderful people. I am thankful that I have been able to experience it firsthand. So farewell for now from India. My next entry will be from the US.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Laughter, Lifts & Lizards

I woke up late this morning. I’m a bit exhausted by the travel, time change and itinerary of my visit to India. Last night was my longest sleep since I left home. It was time to pack-up and move on – leaving Tanuku, my home for the past week.

Awaiting me downstairs were most of the Staff, Pastors and Ministers of Spirit and Life Ministries. I had a wonderful send-off as they all sang a special “blessing song” to me/for me. I took the time to pray for Pastor Prem and Shanthi. Then I prayed for several other pastors and over Spirit and Life Ministries. We hugged and said our good-byes. Then I was ushered into the waiting vehicle. As I was sitting with the door open, all of the children from the Orphanage came by to shake my hand and tell me bye. It was a sweet and special moment for me.

We headed east toward our destination: the port city of Visakhapatnam on the Bay of Bengal. The vehicle was packed with people. Besides myself and Pastor Prem, there were his assistant, the driver, and then 4 Pastors who had come to attend the Convention. Since we were heading to the east coast, we dropped them off in their towns along the way. It was about a 4 to 5 hour journey and we arrived at around 2:30 in the afternoon. We checked me in to the WelcomHotel Grand Bay. I am very thankful and excited to have a bathtub/shower for the first time since leaving home. I have a nice room overlooking the bay.

After a nice lunch, we went to see the city. We went to a park that is up on top of a hill overlooking the city. We took a Cable Car to get up to the top. Pastor Prem’s assistant hesitated for several moments, before getting into the cable car – he had never been in one before and was a bit apprehensive. Pastor Prem had fun with it, and joked about it to him in Telugu (the language they speak in this part of India).

We drove around the city, did a bit of shopping and then headed back to the hotel to turn-in early. We were supposed to have dinner with one of the Convention Speakers, who pastors in this city, but we will do lunch tomorrow with him instead. I enjoy being out among the people, even in a big city like this one. I stick-out like a sore thumb. However, even in the hustle and bustle of busy downtown commerce, I find friendly people who like to ask me who I am, where I am from, and what I am doing here. Even though many of the people can speak English, usually they do not speak it much, so it takes time to communicate with them. I have discovered that one of the best communication tools is a smile. It eases the tension of trying to communicate cross-culturally. Actually, I wish I were as good with their language as they are with mine.

Speaking of communicating – I asked Pastor Prem about a non-verbal expression that is very prominent here. It is the shaking of the head from side-to-side. It is done quite often and I had not quite figured out what it meant. It seemed to me that it either meant “yes” or “not sure.” Prem laughed and said that it is the former – it means “yes.” In the states, we shake our heads up and down in affirmation. Here, they shake the head from side to side in affirmation. Without knowing this, conversations with people here can be very confusing.

Well, I must be going. But, as promised, I will leave you with a parting shot. Yes, friends, it is what you’ve been waiting for: The Night of the Iguana – the final chapter (otherwise known as “How I spent my first night in Tanuku” or my least favorite, “Strangers in the Night”). Here is the rest of the story… The following afternoon of my lizard encounter, Pastor Prem brought one of his staff (Nidu) to trap the lizard and take him back to where he belonged, I assumed. Pastor Prem then went on to tell me that it is common for lizards to get into the houses. Even snakes get into the houses here. Well, that wasn’t what I was hoping to hear. I like lizards, but snakes are a different story altogether! Anyway, he goes on to say that during the rainy season, the lizards go into the houses to stay dry (Thankfully, it is not the rainy season). So what they do to combat the lizard infestation is to put white eggshells around on the floor. There is something about the big white eggshells that frighten the lizards, so they stay away. After Nidu searched far and wide in my room, there were no signs of my first-night bedfellow. He was long gone. So they suggested, “when that lizard saw you, he must’ve thought that you were the biggest white eggshell he had ever seen – and he is gone for good!”

Until next time…

Flowers, Power and Prayer

It is after midnight, actually early Wednesday morning. We just closed the Spirit and Life Ministries 2008 Convention out tonight. I was the closer. The other big guns on the Convention roster had left. I discovered that the last night is when everyone dresses up. So I went and bought myself a sweet-looking Kurta. It is black with white pinstripes. Be sure to check out the picture. (Sorry, I did not have a better picture at posting time.)

So tonight was “honor the special guest the traditional Indian way,” night. Which means that they put me in a chair on center stage, put a flower garland around my neck, put a shawl around me, and then put several more garland wreaths around my neck. I thought that I was going to suffocate from all the flowers. They then asked me to stand up, so as I rose from the chair, I purposely stumbled forward and made a face, as if the weight of the garlands around my neck was too much for me to handle. The crowd howled with laughter, which actually was a great ice-breaker before my message. They also presented me with an artists portrait of myself. The Mallipudi's were great!

I must say that my expectations of India have been exceeded. I don’t know of any place I have been in the world that is more hospitable than here. These are some of the sweetest and kindest people I have ever met. I told Shanthi, (Pastor Prems wife), and his mother, (who runs the orphanage), that I don’t know what I’m going to do with myself now that they have spoiled me so for the past week. I have been waited on hand and foot. Every time I turn around, I am being asked if I need something or would like something. This culture is steeped in respect, honor and hospitality – and when it comes to a man of God, they kick it up a notch.

We had a great service to end the Convention. I preached about “Jesus – Your Only Hope.” The people here have no problem accepting Jesus. They are very spiritual. The problem is that he is viewed by many of them as just another god. So we make a point to preach that Jesus IS God, not just a god. The altar call was like a stage rush at a concert. I have truly never seen anything like it. Hundreds of people will nearly run each other over to get prayed for. The staff tries to control them, having them funnel into a “prayer line” at the front, but once the crowd gets so big, it becomes very difficult to control them.

Like the children, the teenagers here have seemed to get a kick out of me. They want to talk to me and have me pray for them. (Most of them are beginning final exams this week and are a bit stressed about it, so they want me to pray). I don’t know if it is because I am one of the few (maybe only) Pastors to get into the worship with the Contemporary Christian Band that has been here all week called “Song of Hope,” or if it’s just the fact that I am an American novelty who stands out in the crowd (whether I want to or not!). Actually, I believe that it’s just that I am so different. The way I act, the way I talk, the whole package. Whatever it is, I have had a rich experience being here for the past week.

Since, this was the last night, it became picture night after the altar call. Everybody wanted to have a picture with me. This was funny – two of the pastors were arguing over who would stand next to me in a picture, so Pastor Prem had to step in and put Shanthi, next to me. That settled that! Anyway, I will be packing my bags and leaving here in the morning – heading for the coast!

Tomorrow: The Night of the Iguana – The Final Chapter!

Monday, March 3, 2008

It's a Jungle Out Here!

Today I had an incredible adventure. I felt as though I were in a show on National Geographic or the Discovery channel. Pastor Prem, several of his men and I took-off at 6:30am for a three-hour plus road trip to a village called “Buruda Korta.” This village is located in the mountains east of where I am in Tanuku. Through divine intervention, God has opened a door to these people. One of the Pastors with Spirit and Life Ministries has established a work there. That is news in itself as the village is very inaccessible and inhospitable to outsiders. They do not like to deal with the public.

Three months ago, the government created a road (more or less) into the villages of “Buruda Korta.” There is a south village and then a larger north village a mile or two away. The area is an ancient site on the top of a mountain where there used to be a great fort hundreds of years ago. All that is left of the old fort is just some ruins of the wall. Local legend is that a treasure was buried somewhere at the fort and never found (Sounds to me kind of like India’s version of our “Lost Dutchman” gold mine in Arizona).

Pastor Prem has purchased 2 acres of land next to the southern village with the vision of building a ministry compound there that would include a church, school and orphanage. He wanted to personally show me the village and the land so I could better understand the undertaking. In the village they have erected a small 10’ by 15’ church building where the Pastor comes every Sunday afternoon and ministers to this people. The building is made of some concrete, wood and a roof of palm leaves (you can see the picture).

The road has been open to Buruda Korta for three months, but it isn’t much traveled. For one, it is a treacherous journey to take. We had difficulty getting up there even with a four-wheel drive SUV – at one point we got the chassis stuck on a rock protruding out of the middle of the road – it is a dirt road and very rocky. Another, even bigger, obstacle is that outsiders are not welcome (those from the villages and towns down the mountain are unwanted). Government workers and agents are afraid to enter the villages up there, because of past violence against them, including the killing of a policeman. Even though Pastor Prem and the village pastor have favor here, we still went in with a group of eight.

The people live in the village, work in the village and die in the village. The village is their entire world – they will not go outside of the vicinity of their mountain home. They are big-time alcoholics, as they distill the sap from a certain jungle tree that makes very hard liquor. The people have no hope apart from the hope offered them through the gospel of Jesus Christ. The pastor introduced us to a young woman with a disfigured left arm. She had broken her upper arm, but did not go a doctor to have it fixed – nor would a doctor come in to fix it. The children have no school to attend -- they just work doing the chores that are necessary for survival. Pastor Prem talked to a little girl and asked her if she would like to have a school there, and she said that she would like that. From there, we walked over the land that Spirit and Life Ministries own and had a prayer meeting. We prayed for the land to be blessed, the Pastor to be blessed and encouraged, and for the village to be transformed by Jesus Christ.

We got back into our vehicle and drove up the road to the north village about a mile or so away. We just did a quick drive-in and then turned around as the men told us it was too dangerous to get out of the vehicle. So we promptly left that village and headed back toward civilization. After about 2 miles, we stopped at the summit of the mountain pass. Pastor Prem wanted to show me the ruins of the ancient fort that was back in the jungle a few hundred yards. On our way, I asked him about all of the looks we were getting back in the village – especially since he and the other pastor are known and accepted here. He said; “It’s because of you. You are the first white man ever to come into this village.”

Check-out the video of the adventure...

Morning Musings...

The favorite parts of my days, here in Tanuku, are the mornings. I am staying in a second-story room that overlooks the entire ministry compound. If I look left, I see the church. If I look right, there is the Children’s home. I especially enjoy the mornings because I am awakened each and every day to the sweet serenading of the children singing (They start off their days with a song -- what an idea!). Oh, it’s not in English, but I understand the songs nonetheless. You see, they communicate on a higher level than mere verbal language -- they communicate the language of the heart. Their melody is love, their refrain is hope and their little, yet loud, voices tenderly and emotionally touch a place deep within my heart.

Sunday morning, I was at church early. Nearly the first to arrive at church are the children from the Home. They sit down front on the floor and they worship louder and longer than anyone else. They were there from about 9:30am – 1:15pm. They not only endured my message, (although they liked hearing about my dog, Roxy), but they endured another preacher’s message as well! At the service, many of them wanted to come up and shake my hand (and try out their English as well).

The convention grounds are about a mile away from here. Every night the children walk from here to the convention site and take their place, sitting on the ground, down front.
After the Convention service ends the caretakers gather them together and they walk back to the children’s home. Don’t feel sorry for them – they enjoy every minute of getting out of the compound and experiencing the sights and sounds of the city. At the Convention services, they are the loudest, most responsive and most enthusiastic ones in the crowd of over a thousand. They are a joy to behold. They are truly precious.

These children have very little, but they give very much. I believe I am getting a fresh theological revelation of the words of Jesus, regarding children, when He said; “such is the kingdom of heaven.”

Please watch the video of the Children's Home Visit...

Sunday, March 2, 2008

It's Sunday!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

It is almost midnight here in India. Actually anywhere in India, because the whole big country has concluded that they should have only one time zone. Since it is midnight here that means Sunday morning church is going on at home. I am praying for the service and for my beautiful wife, Karlene, to be mightily used by God in my absence. I’m sure that she will do well. To the Cornerstone family; I hope you enjoyed the video that I threw together today that you watched this morning. Now that really sounds weird. I just wanted to give you a glimpse of India through my eyes, just as we are doing here with my words.

Today, I preached the second half of a double-header at Pastor Prem’s church, Spirit and Life Temple. His church is probably the largest in this district (we would call it county).
We had a great move of God in the service. Dozens of people wanted me to pray for them and, of course, I obliged. People come to me by the scores, wanting me to bless them. In fact, at the Convention I have to stay on the stage and reach down to pray for people. If I went down into the altar call crowd, I would easily get overwhelmed by people clamoring for a touch.

We had another great night tonight at the convention. A man gave his testimony of being raised from the dead. That was pretty powerful. Pastor Prem estimates that half of the crowd do not go to church. Well they sure are spiritually hungry, because the big altar area fills up fast.

Please be in prayer for me as Pastor Prem and I are taking a mission Trip tomorrow morning to some jungle villages, some 3 hours away from where I am staying. The adventure continues!

See you later…

Have a great Sunday and first of your week!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Saturday Matinee

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Before I get going, let me say that I enjoy hearing your comments about the trip/blog. Here in India, I am about as inconspicuous as the grand canyon. In Tanuku, for instance, I am the only white person around. I make a scene and startle children everywhere I go. I am a novelty. I am the foreigner. Most people here do not speak my language and even the ones that do, really do not. What I'm trying to say is that your communication is good medicine for someone on the other side of the world. I cannot email you back, but know that having you along for the ride with me, is important to me. Thank you -- I do appreciate it and you very much.

Well, after a long day and last night’s opening of the Convention, I was exhausted. I don’t think I have shared that I haven’t slept much since I have been here. On the flight from LA to Frankfurt, I didn’t sleep. On the flight from Frankfurt to Hyderabad, I only slept a couple of hours – at most. You could tell from the video. FYI: Folks, that’s not alcohol, that’s sleep deprivation! Similar symptoms, however. Anyhow, last night I crashed (sleep metaphor – since you know the traffic here, I don’t want to alarm you). I actually got a full-night’s sleep. Which is mucho better than the 3 and then 3 and a half hours sleep I had gotten the previous two nights. It’s amazing I got any sleep at all during the night of the iguana. Oh, yes – THE lizard. There is more to that tale, actually.

So I got up today around 7:30, and checked my mail and such online (Since I now have wireless access from my room). After getting cleaned-up, which is an adventure all it’s own, I headed down to the dining room for breakfast. They like to serve me breakfast at 8:30am. That is their schedule. Today, I was running late – Okay, I was in slow-motion -- so I arrived at 8:45. The place was a ghost town. No one was around, as far as I could tell. So I sat down in the living room and relaxed. After about 5 minutes, one of the young ladies around here noticed me sitting there and went for help. Directly, Shanthi, Pastor Prem’s wife appeared, (obviously straight from sleep somewhere), and asked if I would like some tea. It turns out that everyone else had crashed hard (again, sleep) just like me!

I sat at the table and after a few minutes, Shanthi brought me a cup of tea. Shanthi’s brother, who is also a Pastor, came in and kept me company. Then a groggy-looking Pastor Prem showed up. Now it’s time for a “Boy, Do I Feel Stupid!” moment… Drinking Shanthi’s tea, I remarked that we have tea “like this in the United States – I get it at Starbucks – we call it Chai tea.” They look at me like, “duh, where do you think that came from?!” They were much too kind to say it, but it definitely was a moment!

I was scheduled to preach at the youth event here at the campus at 11:30, which was then moved to 12 noon (Service times here seem to be very flexible). So the young man who was my guide on the video comes to my room to bring me the news and then he says, “Pastor Prem is not here. He had to go to the doctor. I will be translating for you in the youth service” (have you seen the video?). Obviously stressing about having to interpret for me, he then requests of me; ”Please make small words.” Too funny. I told him that my wife tells me the same thing when I preach in America. We actually ended up having a pretty good service with the youth.

Tonight's service at the grounds was great. The crowd was up to about 1,000. I didn't understand most things that were said with the exception of the Christian Boy band when they sang "One Way, Jesus!" with an Indian accent. I told Pastor Prem; "Finally, a song I can sing along with!" He thought that was funny. At the end of tonight's service, hundreds came down for prayer. It seems that I have prayed for more people in the last three days than in the last year. God is doing a great work here.

Tomorrow is Sunday, I'll be preaching at noon (which will be 10:30 Saturday night LA time).
Thank you for your love and prayers.

Until next time...