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The Hole in the Gospel

I am reading a great book called ‘The Hole in the Gospel’ by Richard Stearns who is the President for World Vision. Anyone who knows me I hate talking about money and discussing money things but at the end of the day it is important. The book is about how we as Christians want to follow God yet there are so many of his commands which we ignore. We are completely ignorant to what is going on in the rest of the world when there is so much we could be doing and so much God has called us to do. Don’t get me wrong there is no doubt the most important thing is to go and share the gospel and to make disciples. However if we read numerous passages in the bible about our actions, in particular Matthew ch 25 v 31- 46 God clearly asks us to do more. This book is very very challenging and also gives some stastics which I could not believe. I normally don’t share things here but I really feel I want to and even though most of it is about money I think it is important. Richard Stearns says ‘The bible devotes twice as many verses to money as it does to faith and prayer combined and fully 15% of Jesus’ recorded words dealt with money.’ All the statics are based on the church in America……

• If your income is $25,000 US per year you are wealthier than approximately 90% of the world’s population.

• Of the 6.7 billion people on the earth almost half live on less than $2 per day.

• 93% of the world’s population do not own a car therefore if you do you are in the 7% that do.

• The total income of American churchgoers is $5.2 trillion, it would take just a little over 1% of the income of American Christians to lift the poorest one billion people in the world out of extreme poverty.

• If every American churchgoer tithed, there would be an extra $168 billion,they could literally change the world. Universal primary education for children would cost $6 billion, clean water to most of the world’s poor $9 billion, basic health and nutrition for everyone in the world, $13 billion.

Here is a letter he has written to the church directly from the words words of Jesus. Before he starts he also says ‘I realize this violated every rule of sound biblical exegesis, but I think you will agree that it works-it speaks to us with truth and with bluntness.’

These are the words of the one who holds the seven stars and walks among the golden lamp stands. I know your deeds. You live in luxury and self indulgence because you have forgotten your first love. I hold this against you. Woe to those of you who add house to house and join field to field til no space is left. Surely the great houses will become desolate, the fine mansions left without occupants.

Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but you have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded you wealth in the last days. You say ‘I am rich ;I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ Yet it is those who are poor in the eyes of the world that are rich in faith. I have chosen them to inherit the kingdom I have promised to those who love me. Therefore, do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy. And thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Seek first my kingdom and my righteousness, and all these other things will be given to you aswell. Remember, even I, the Lord Jesus Christ, though I was rich, for your sakes became poor, so that you, through my poverty might become rich.

Why do you call me, ‘Lord Lord,’ but do not do what I say. Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says, for whoever obeys my commands-that is the one who loves me.

What does the Lord require of you, you ask? To act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God. In fact the entire law is summed up in a single command, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’

There will always be poor people in the land. I command you to be open-handed toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in the land. Defend the cause of the weak and the fatherless, maintain the rights of the poor and the oppressed.

Now let’s talk about fasting. You cannot fast as you do today and except your voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? It is only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? No, this is the fast that I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke. It is to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter- when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him.

Even now, return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love and he relents from sending calamity.

I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle, be patient, bearing with one another in love. Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Why spend money on what is not bread and labour on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Then you will call and I will answer: you will cry for help, and I will say, ‘Here am I,’ If you do away with the yoke of oppression with the pointing finger and the malicious talk and if your spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness and your night will become as noonday. I will guide you always, I will satisfy your needs in a sun scorched land and strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.

Therefore my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in Vain.

I am coming soon, My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.

The book really challenged me about what I am doing with my money which God has blessed me with. God has put us where we are for a reason,I often wonder why did I deserve to be born in Northern Ireland instead of Haiti. Where I was able to grow up in a nice house, with my family, able to eat everyday, able to go to school and if I was sick I was able to go to the doctor. Why did I deserve that compared to the kids I meet here in Haiti everyday who live in a small mud hut, not having much to eat, not being able to afford to go to school or the doctor if they are sick. And I’m not just talking about Haiti, add on Africa, eastern Europe, South America, China and even areas of our own country.
So……….what am I going to do about it?

I believe as christians it is our responsibility to help the poor, feed the hungry, clothe the naked and heal the sick. We get so consumed with stuff and at the end of the day when we die we cannot bring any of it with us. Yet with the money we use to buy ‘stuff’ there is so much more we can be doing which God can use to change lives. We can send children to school who have no other means, pay for medical care for people who cannot afford to, help a family start a small business so they can support themselves, provide clean water for a village, help build a house/school/ church, pay for bibles for people who cannot afford them, pay for airtime for Christian radio stations, I could go on………..maybe your thinking ok that’s good but how?

There are so many Christian organisations which have these sort of opportunities which need support and prayer to fund these projects so they not only preach the love of God but also show the love of God through their actions ( Tearfund, world vision, Abanna are just to name a few).

Richard Stearns really writes much better than me so I will finish with some of his words….

‘When historians look back in one hundred years, what will they write about this nation of 340,000 churches? What will they say of the church‘s response to the great challenges of our time- AIDS, poverty, hunger, terrorism and war? Will they say authentic Christians rose up courageously and responded to the tide of human suffering? Will they write of an unprecedented outpouring of generosity to meet the urgent needs of the world’s poor?

Or will they look back and see a church too comfortable, insulated from the pain of the rest of the world, empty of compassion, and devoid of deeds? Will they write about a people who stood by and watched while a hundred million died of AIDS and fifty million children were orphaned, of Christians who lived in luxury and self indulgence while millions died of food and water? Will schoolchildren read in disgust about a church that had wealth to build great sanctuaries but lacked the will to build schools, hospitals and clinics? In short will we be remembered as the church with a gaping whole in the gospel?

Transition time again!

This weekend I (Steve) went away with a couple of friends for some guy time. We went white water rafting, that’s me in the back with the big muscles – just kidding, we don’t have any pics of us rafting! We camped in the jungle in an old wooden shack, cooked our meat (that we caught with our bare hands, well, not exactly, but sounds more manly doesn’t it?!) on a camp fire and then went rock climbing the next morning. We thank God for keeping us safe as one of the guys fell in the water whilst rafting and was under the water for about 30 seconds in the rapids – he could have drowned and it shook us up a bit. But he wasn’t hurt thankfully.

Not quite like the girlie week-end of relaxing and pampering that Helen had a couple of weeks ago with her friends!  It has been great to have the chance to get away with these friends as we have become very close to them and we’ll be sad to say goodbye in 6 weeks. With the exception of a few friends we already have in Mexico we’ll be starting all over again when we get there. While that can be quite tiring it’s also exciting to think we’re going to meet new people, and develop new relationships.

Of course we miss friends and family back home as well but we are so thankful for modern technology and the fact we can communicate instantly across the world, not only by telephone but via Skype too. It impacts us how much things have changed in the last couple of hundred years. For example back in the 19th Century missionaries packed their things into a coffin because they knew the chances of coming back were slim with all the diseases they would have to confront. Now if that’s not commitment to the cause I don’t know what is!

Air travel and modern communication has made goodbyes slightly easier, but there is still a lot of pain and energy involved in moving. We’re not sharing this because we want you to feel sorry for us, we believe wholeheartedly in what we are doing and are absolutely convinced God has called us to do this work which is what gets us through the hard days. No, we’re sharing this to ask you to partner with us in praying as we go through another transition!

Below I have included something we were taught about while we were training at OMS HQ in the USA. It’s called the bridge of transition. The green parts of the bridge show the times that you are settled, the closer you get to moving the more towards the centre you get. During the red period you’re physically moving, finding your house etc, which is the most stressful time. Eventually as you become more settled you’ll come out of the orange on the other side. We’re starting to move from green to orange right now and in about a month we’ll be entering the red stage and will probably live in that state until about September. When we arrive in Mexico we’ll live in temporary accommodation until we can find a house. So we know there is a stressful time ahead but we remember the words God said to Joshua, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

Happy moments with God

“…so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty,but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

This is an excerpt from a note a friend from school sent to me recently:

“Happy moments with God, I don’t know whether you remember that once you gave that book to me for my birthday. Almost 20 years later I’ve understood this: When one buys a gadget…, one reads the manual in detail in order not to damage it. The Bible is the manual of instructions for each person. I am a technician, and that’s why it became easy for me to understand this: there are two ways of learning: either through love (only by love man can be saved) or, the difficult way, through suffering.
Anyway, it is the Book [the Bible] that will help us to find the way to true life (not the one we live for 15, 30 or 80 years), but the eternal life. … [if people read the Bible] at least nobody will have the excuse to complain of not being warned once they’ve reached their final destination…. If only I had understood when you first gave me that book! However, I’m happy it wasn’t too late for me.”

I never remember what gifts I give. But perhaps the Lord wanted me remember this one, because his Word never returns to him empty. I put a seed of God’s Word in my friend’s heart many years ago; and God has looked after that seed through the seasons and only over 20 years later I learn again about the fruit that came out of it!

We are the holders of the seeds, we have been entrusted with that treasure, not to keep for ourselves, but to distribute it among the nations. I, you, all of us, need to keep scattering seeds. It may be more than 1, 5, 20, 30 years before we know whether it produced any fruit. Or we may never know about it. Paul encourages us not to “become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9).

Isaiah 55:11

Our one-legged guard

We have met a lot of colourful characters here with lots of stories to tell. One of them is our guard on our street whom I’ll call ‘M’. He’s from Panama but has lived here now for many years and is unable to return to Panama because of something that happened when he was in the army there. He’s very friendly and we got to know him very quickly from chatting to him each day as we passed by his little guard-hut where he would sit all day.

He says that one day when he was working outdoors he heard singing and followed the sound to a church. And it was there that he met God. He still holds on to his faith, but admits that he has been very hot and cold with God. He lost a leg in an accident a while ago, and he says that God healed the wound miraculously after he prayed one night. The wound had taken months to heal as it kept re-opening because of the type of work that he was doing at the time. He had become so desperate because of the pain, that he had prayed that God would either take his life or completely heal his leg, so God answered by healing him!

However, like so many here he has experienced a broken marriage which has driven him to alcohol to drown his sorrows. At the beginning of our year here we would only encounter him drunk every once in while, but now it seems to be becoming a regular occurrence. Because of this he is always penniless and has been kicked out of his lodgings a few times by the landlord because he hasn’t been able to pay the rent. He often comes to our house looking for money (as we know he has done with previous tenants here), and we have tried to help him as best we can by giving him work – in the garden etc, but have told him that we don’t believe it would be truly helping him to bail him out every time he has a money crisis. We’ve recommended that he asks for help from the church (he sporadically attends the same church as us) who would be able to help him with the deeper issues he has so that he can break the vicious cycle he is currently trapped in. He has said that he will try and talk to the pastor, but we can see that he is too embarrassed and proud to admit that he needs help with his issues of un-forgiveness towards his wife and help to stop his drinking.

His situation has become so severe that he has been able to renew his residency status here, so he is now illegal and can quite possible lose his job. He hasn’t been able to renew his leg prosthesis either which is beginning to cause problems. Just recently his ex-wife has turned up in San José as well and has been sending messages to him which has pushed him over the edge.

We have offered him work again in our garden as he’s been struggling financially, but we’ve found that he has become very unreliable and will let us down again and again when we have set a date for him to come and work for us. It has been difficult knowing how to deal with him as it is culturally very bad to lose face and so people here will often prefer to make excuses or put things off than admit that they are unable to fulfil a commitment or have messed up. But we feel that the best way we can help M is by letting him face the consequences of his actions, so we’ve had to be quite firm with him and give him ultimatums.

We know that many people have tried to help M and that God has definitely been trying to get through to him, but he seems to have really hardened his heart. We obviously don’t want our friendship with him to be affected, but we also need wisdom in how to advise him and help him in all his crises. If you are able to pray for this situation we’d really appreciate it!

For your prayers…

I have told a few you about a few people and just wanted to give a quick update about how they are doing…

Sterlina- My wee friend from Milot who was in Port on 12th Jan. She had been told her whole family were killed and so after being in Milot they sent her to live in an orphanage in Cap Haitian, I have been going to visit her every couple of weeks. I was out last week and she just found out her family are actually all still alive, her dad is ill but he was ill before the earthquake, her mum was hurt in the earthquake and is still healing and all 6 of her brothers & sisters are fine, they are also all together in Port right now. She spoke to her family on the phone, her mum said to her, I already have 6 kids who I cannot look after, I cannot do anything for you, you would be better staying where you are. I asked her what she would prefer to stay somewhere where she is well looked after with food, clothes, somewhere to sleep and school to go to or be in Port with her family where none of that is guaranteed. She just told me she didn’t know. I’m not sure what she was thinking though. But she is having a hard time, having grieved for her family who she found out are now alive but she has no way of seeing them.

Berlota- He is the young guy I met who had fallen out of a tree and had been lying at home and developed a huge pressure sore on his lower back. He is still in Milot, they cleaned out the wound, give him anti-biotics for infection, and are changing the dressing’s every day. I had a chat with him the other day about the future what he thinks will happen. Education, especially health education is very limited in Haiti and he really had no idea he would ever be able to walk again. I had to explain to him why not and what he could do once his back heals. He has been sitting up by himself over the edge of the bed which is great. There is a plastic surgeon out in Milot this week and they may do a procedure to help it heal much quicker. Please continue to pray for his healing. Also praise God for someone from home who has donated money to pay for his medical bills…..God provides. Especially when we obey him, the first time I met Berlota I knew I couldn’t not do anything yet I had no idea who I was going to pay for things, immediately God provided a way without me even doing anything or asking anyone.

Auguste- This is the lady I met with the sore hip. I sent her to Milot hospital to get an orthopaedic opinion. She is really in a bad position, she has had infection in her hip probably for a couple of years and her hip replacement is not in a good position at all which is why she is in so much pain. I spoke to the doctor (he was an American) he explained even if she lived in the states it would be very difficult to find a hospital to give her the treatment she needs. Our only option here in Haiti is painkillers and some antibiotics which will maybe probably not do much. She has 5 kids and I have been trying to talk to her about a way to find some sort of work to do. Even though that is going to be really difficult, but she has to otherwise I have no idea how she will live. Please pray for her as she accepts there is nothing we can do here in Haiti for her from a medical point of view. Also pray God will give us a way to find some sort of work for her to do.

Ashkala- Its really her mum I would want you to pray for, her name is Myrlene. She came to see me today to let me know her husband who had been really sick for a couple of years just died on Wednesday. I had talked to her about two weeks ago and she told me she thought he was close to dying. Then she told me she took ashkala over to an orphanage on Friday. She told me not because she doesn’t love her, because she wants the best for her, and maybe by putting her there they can look after her well and provide better medical care. Myrlene is really an amazing lady, I told her if all the things that had happened to her I do not know how I would be sitting there talking to me. She replied ‘it is only by God’s grace that I am able to sit here and talk to you. I used to go to church then I left but as all these happened to me, I had 4 children and they have all died, just ashkala who is still alive but she is suffering alot, but everytime I see her I give God thanks for her because out of all the children I had have she has lived the longest. I came back to the Lord, began going to church again and God has given me so much strength to keep going. It is only by God’s grace that I am alive today, that I am able to come and talk to you today.’ Myrlene has had such a difficult time and everytime I see her or talk to her she never asks me for anything other than to pray for her which is unusual for Haiti really. She is such an example of faith, so many people in the same situation would question God why he was letting her suffer so much. Yet she does not look at it like that, She is a strong strong christian and an amazing example of God’s faithfullness and strength.

Family matters

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.”

Genesis 2:24
Steve recently shared with me something that came out of a discussion in the “Conflict Resolution” intensive class at SEMBEC, which just finished last week.  The students were asked to think of implications of the verse above, and one of them said:  “Honouring and respecting our in-laws”.  A second student asked:  “Why?  I cannot see that from that text.”  Steve gave the first student the opportunity to explain further.  Her reasoning went this way:  “As children we are to honour our parents (Eph. 6:1-3).  When one gets married, the husband and wife become one.  As a daughter or a son we are still to honour our own parents.  But when we become one with the spouse, we must show the same honour to the spouse’s parents too.”

Wow!  Here there is new light on this matter!  Plenty of times we children find it hard to follow this commandment – the new generation always seems to think they are more right than the previous ones.  Let alone honouring our in-laws – people that are very different from us, maybe with different values or culture!

A few days ago we saw some photographs of the 90th birthday of Steve’s father – nephews and nieces, brothers and sisters in-law, all together celebrating this wonderful milestone in Charles’ life.  In my heart I wished we could have been there, that my boys could have appeared in the photographs with the rest of the family, that we could have celebrated with them, I wished we could have expressed to him what an example of a Christian man he is to us!  We did it over the phone.  We rejoice with him at a distance, we prayed for him during the day and told our children about their Grandpa.  They long to see him and Grandma again!  We pray God will grant this blessing to all of us.

The Builder and the builders

Samuel will finish school next Monday, Joseph this coming Saturday and Benjamin finished today.  He has a graduation photograph and excellent marks.

Steve gave his last lecture for this academic year last Thursday.  For him it has been non-stop teaching since January.  For me it has been mainly non-stop studying.  At the same time, I’ve tried to do promotion work for SEMBEC with a non-existent budget.  This, believe it or not, has actually given me the advantage to get to know leaders of the churches in Cuenca in a way that could not have been done if we had extra money to invest in nice paper and expensive promotion.  I don’t know how many students will come to SEMBEC because of that.  I believe that God will take me to those he has chosen to study there, which means that I still need to move and not only wait for students to march into the building.

Our staff for next year are Tom, Susan, Jorge, Clayton, Steve, Lilia, Narcisa, Adriana and myself.  Classes will restart in September, but work for the lecturers continues over the holiday period, with preparation.  There’s also work being done in the second and third floors and the roof of the building.  So far only the first floor and 2 classrooms of the second floor were finished and in use.

Remember us in prayer:
– that the staff will find the right balance between resting and preparing for lectures.
– some staff will do some travelling during these months, as part of their ministry.
– safety for the workers of the building.
– that former students will have their eyes open to see how they can serve in God’s Kingdom with what he has given to them trough SEMBEC.
– that current students will have opportunities to serve in the churches and apply what they have learned so far.
– that future students will hear and obey God’s voice calling them to deeper committment to him.
– that God will speak to the pastors so that they will be happy to support spiritually to people from their churches that come to study to SEMBEC.
– Above all, that the Holy Spirit would hover in SEMBEC (the building and the people).

“Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labour in vain.  … In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—for he grants sleepd to1 those he loves” (Ps. 127:1a,2).

A year on…

We have been reflecting a lot this weekend on the fact that this Sunday last year we were being prayed for in our church just before we left for training in the States and before leaving for our year in Costa Rica. We have so valued everyone’s love and support over this past year. So many people have given sacrificially in order to get us to the mission field and we appreciate you all so much. 

These past 11 months in Costa Rica have been hard work getting to grips with Spanish but we have appreciated having the privelege of living in this beautiful country and of being given the opportunity to acclimatise to the Latin American culture.

We leave for Mexico on 19th August so are counting down the weeks now. We’re really excited about joining our team in Mexico and of being reunited with old friends. It is going to be heart wrenching leaving friends here but we know God is leading us to the next chapter of our lives and we can’t wait to get stuck into the work in Mexico City.

We hope in a year’s time to return to the UK for 6 months to re-connect with you all and give you a formal report before heading back to Mexico again.

Midsummer

There was a wonderful John Buchan novel called Midwinter, which I read aeons ago and which has now almost totally gone from my memory. Katuska recently picked The Thirty-Nine Steps off the bookshelf, and was lost for a few days in swashbucklingly unlikely tales of espionage and heroism. Then in the last day or two she’s read Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place – vastly more exciting and moving than anything Buchan ever dreamed up. I wonder if this is the time of year for getting lost in a good book.

As for me, I just have to guess it must be about midsummer. You can’t tell from the weather; it drizzles a lot and gets chilly at night, but there’s nothing to give shape to the seasons, like an 11pm sunset or strawberries and Wimbledon. The truth is I’ve got one class to go (Conflict Resolution, tomorrow night) and a few more scripts to mark from my Old Testament class – and that will be it for the academic year; hang up the gown and head for the sun.

Except that I won’t be heading anywhere for a while, since the boys still have school for a couple of weeks and music school after that, and even if they didn’t, we’ve made some pretty big plans for next year in SEMBEC, so before long I’m going to be busy preparing my next set of classes. But not before all the fuss about the World Cup is over.

Making plans in the mountains

The next few weeks will be extra busy in SEMBEC. No complaints, just plenty of prayer requests! This Saturday, 22nd May, Katuska’s sister Ingrid will travel from Guayaquil to give a workshop on “Children’s Praise and Worship”. From the number of enquiries we’re guessing we’ll have more people attending than at previous workshops; a good number of students have offered their help to make sure things run smoothly.

The following Saturday, 29th May, is the day of SEMBEC’s Assembly. This is the annual business meeting: time to hear reports of the past year’s activities and plans for the future. It’s a good opportunity to see some of those who don’t live in Cuenca but are interested in the work of the seminary. Please pray that these supporters will be able to attend the meeting and hear the plans for the new academic year.

On Monday 7th June SEMBEC will open its doors to the Fellowship of Pastors of Cuenca. There will be a Communion service followed by breakfast. It should be a great opportunity to raise SEMBEC’s profile in the city. We plan to present each pastor with a file of promotional material as well as giving them a good breakfast. We hope to create new openings in churches where we’re not so well known; and, later, to make follow-up visits to those churches, to speak about how the seminary can serve them through the training it offers. 2 Tim. 2:2 explains our calling: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.” Our prayer is that God will open our eyes to see those reliable people….