What Do You Talk About when . . .

November 6, 2016

It’s not very of2016_11_04-mamadou-at-gloriasten that you have an opportunity to host an African church leader to dinner.  But Sonia and I had that pleasure last Friday night.  We were rife with curiosity and questions that made it easy to converse.  Here’s some of how it went.

How much rain did they get in their region of West Africa?  You see, they are mostly farmers there, living off the land and depending on the rain for their crops.  Our group left this year just as the rains were coming.  Turns out that they had a wonderful rain in their region this year and will have a full crop of maize.  That’s the good news.  The sad news is that they lose half of their crop to the rodents after they store it in wooden bins.
Here’s a picture of how they store their grain today.  What an opportunity for some outside businessmen to provide metal storage bins that are sealed from critters and the weather!  As it stands, they just storage-bindon’t have the money to build them.

More personally, how does a young man raised as a Muslim come to surrender his life to the person of Christ and become a church leader?  Speak of transitions!  What a story it was.  Fast forward to today . . . what’s it like to be a man in a poor Muslim-dominated country trying to carve out a niche to provide a foothold for the expansion and strengthening of Christianity?  And how can those Christians, poor as they are, make significant positive contributions to the communities in which they live?  How can they build businesses that will provide for their self-reliance? 

Leave it to Sonia to ask some stimulating questions:  What’s the best part of your life in West Africa these days?  “My wife.”  What’s the worst? “Persecution.”

We talked about those things and a lot more which made the evening fly by quickly and left us inspired and full of admiration for this man.  And we learned a lot about opportunities for their growth and development, about what life is like in a place very different than Dallas, and about how God blesses those who are faithful in following Him. 

By the way, he’s seven feet tall.  

Lessons from the Cedars of Lebanon

August 18, 2014

Cedars of Lebanon – July 2014

The Cedar trees that grow in the mountains of Lebanon hold a very special significance for the Christian. Solomon used those strong timbers to build God’s temple (1 Kings 7:2-3). The Bible also refers to them as the basis of several metaphors. Therefore, when Pastor Milad Dagher gave his free day to take Sonia and I to the Cedars of Lebanon last month, we were thrilled. While we hiked along the trail for an hour and a half, he related some of the characteristics of that special tree that made the trip as devotional as it was educational.

• DEEP ROOTS: For every ten feet of height above the ground, the tree roots go down 30 feet under ground. I want my “being rooted and grounded in love” (Ephesians 3:17) to reflect the Cedar.
• PENETRATION: The tips of the roots are equipped with a substance that allows them to drill through the toughest of rock and continue the deep-rootedness of the tree. I want my life to drill through difficult times so that in the end, I am anchored in a rock foundation.
• USEFULNESS TO OTHERS: Psalm 104:16-17 show that the cedars, which God created, serve to provide for the needs of other living things like the birds of the air. I would like my life, like that of the Cedar, to exist for the sake of other members of the world community.
• RESISTANCE TO DECAY: The sap of the Cedar serves as a natural repellant to harmful insects and fungi. This internal resistance to decay and infection make me think of the “armor of God” which allows us to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. Our spiritual “sap” should include truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, and faith “with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” (Ephesians 6:1-17)
• UNITY: The limbs of neighboring trees grow right into the foliage of the neighboring tree and sometimes grow together as one. So even if one tree dies, its limbs will be sustained by merging with the surviving tree. Psalm 133:1, “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity,” refers literally to siblings living together as members of an extended family or community. How different this picture is than that of competitive siblings quarrelling over possessions and power.
• LONGEVITY AND VITALITY: Psalm 92:12, 14-15 is my favorite reference to the cedar in Lebanon because it provides encouragement to a man who is getting older but hopefully more righteous. “The righteous man will flourish like the palm tree and will grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord; they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still yield fruit in old age; they shall be full of sap and very green, to declare that the Lord is upright; He is my rock and there is not unrighteousness in Him.”

IMG_1366 IMG_1367





If you know of any additional characteristics of the cedars of Lebanon, please add them in the comments below.

Bach in Japan

March 11, 2013

No, this is not Bach.  His name is Massaki Suzuki and he’s the founder and conductor of the Bach Collegium Japan.  He is drawing huge crowds from all over Japan to his concerts.  It seems that many of these music lovers are having their first contact with Christianity through the music of Johann Sebastian Bach!  How is that?  Mr. Suzuki explains,

Masaaki Suzuki<br />photo: Marco Borggreve

“What people need in this country is hope in the Christian sense of the word, but hope is an alien idea here.  Our language does not even have an appropriate word for hope.  We either use a word meaning desire or another word meaning something unattainable.”   A professor said, “Where else in the world do you find non-Christians so engrossed in biblical texts?”

J. S. Bach died 7-28-1750

J. S. Bach died 7-28-1750

After each of his performances, non-Christians crowd around his podium to talk about topics that are normally taboo in Japanese society — death for example.  “And they inevitably ask me to explain to them what hope means to Christians.  Get’s me thinking about how I might articulate my answer to that question in an understandable way.  How would you explain what hope means to you?

According to one Japanese man’s report, “Bach gives us hope when we are afraid; he gives us courage when we despair; he comforts us when we are tired; he makes us pray when we are sad; and he makes us sing when we are full of joy.”

About three years ago, First Things published an article from which I learned about this Bach boom that’s still sweeping Japan.  It’s six pages long, but worth the read.    In it, the writer describes the bleak spiritual picture in Japan as well as the encouragement provided by Bach’s music.

Thanks to J. Marty Cope, our church’s choir director, who is organizing a tour for us to travel there this summer to sing music from Bach and Handel and old gospel hymns from America.

All this impacts me as yet another example of the impact Jesus had when he visited Planet Earth 2000 years ago sending ripples of influence on the arts and music as well as so many other influences for good.  I just finished reading John Ortberg’s book, Who Is This Man?, which shows the ongoing impact of Christ on so many ways we can live life with dignity throughout history as well as how we can be rightly related to God the Father permanently.

What an appropriate time of the year to listen to a portion of Japanese believers singing St. John Passion.

Training, Not Just Teaching

March 22, 2012

Arthur & Olga Alard

I met an interesting couple who offer practical and effective leadership training in Africa.   Americans could learn a lot from them.

What are the chances that a Russian woman with a medical degree in Epidemiology from Moscow would meet a South African man from Cape Town and get married? Yes, they met at Dallas Theological Seminary where Olga was studying World Missions and Intercultural Studies and Arthur was studying Biblical Counseling. Now they have a three-year-old son named Pavel Arturovich Alard (Russian for, Paul son of Arthur Alard). What do people do with academic master’s degrees like these?

Arthur and Olga Alard are serving with Entrust and More Than A Mile Deep (MMD) in South Africa as missionaries.  They like to say, “We’re multiplying leaders for multiplying churches.”  The name of the organization stems from a Bible passage in 2 Timothy 2:2 which says: “And ENTRUST what you heard me say in the presence of many others as witnesses to faithful people who will be competent to teach others as well.” The problem they faced with trying to train leadership in Africa loomed large from the reputation of spreading their work over a thousand miles wide but only an inch deep. But African church leaders have named their particular ministry “More Than a Mile Deep” because they have developed a program that results in deep roots that keep on multiplying.

MMD is a unique ministry because Africans have owned the development process and training and has being managing this project from the beginning. MMD learners don’t have to leave their ministry home base to receive training. Instead, MMD trainers take the training to the church leaders in their ministry contexts and facilitate the learning process with no more than 12 church leaders per group. The group is thus a co-mentoring group. They train the first generation of church leaders and the first generation church leaders become second generation trainers.  MMD’s Educational Philosophy is called Competency Development Learning. They don’t give exams, but instead assess the portfolios of each learner during and at the end of each course, tracking the progress of the ministry competencies which the church leader has developed through his/her involvement in real life ministry contexts.

Entrust and MMD offer an internationally recognized accredited, practical and quality program in partnership with the South African Theological Seminary – SATS.  What do they teach? SATS, Entrust and MMD are working on a joint project to write a new curriculum for social transformation in Africa, from a Biblical perspective. Included are courses such as Living A Practical Christian Life, Pastoral Guidance and Counseling in HIV and AIDS, Resolving Poverty and Divisive Ethnicity, Generating Sustainable Income, and Developing Business as Mission…and many more. That strikes me as very practical.

As missionaries with Entrust in South Africa Arthur and Olga are self-supported and rely on the financial support of partners. Checks can be made payable to ENTRUST with M128 on the memo line (not their names) and mailed to Entrust, PO Box 25520, Colorado Springs, CO 80936-5520.

Want to follow them on facebook?  Click here.

Don’t Forget to Remember Me

March 17, 2012

Emmanuel in Formal Attire

Emmanuel in My Office










This week I met a very interesting man.  He has a gift for poetry.  He thinks creatively.  He envisions wonderful plans.  He comes to the United States from Nigeria so he can study theology and Bible at Dallas Seminary.  Perhaps his most impressive impact, beyond his talent and his winsome personality, is his devotion to the Lord and his desire to spread the joys of the Gospel to young people throughout his home country of Nigeria.  He founded an organization called “GoldSpringsGold” through which he hopes to encourage others to embrace  the riches of knowing Jesus and spring forth with scattering those blessings all around.  Keep watching Emmanuel because he should be contributing to the future prosperity and dignity of Africa in the coming years.  I share one of his poems with you.

DON’T FORGET TO REMEMBER ME.                               By – Emmanuel Olorunnisola

I AM the Creator of everything.
I know the beginning before it even began.
I see the end right from when it all began.
I have everything under my control.
I give you the will and power to choose.
Don’t forget to remember me.

I love you with all of my heart.
I AM with you even when I seem far away.
I hold the world in my hands.
And I hold you in my hands too.
In all you think and all you do,
Don’t forget to remember me.

There will be times when things will go smooth.
And all you get will make you soothe.
All you lay your hands on will bring you wealth.
And you will always be in good health.
When everything is working out well for you,
Don’t forget to remember me.

The sun rises to wake up the morning.
The sun shines to make it a day.
The moon comes up to bring down the evening,
The stars shine to make it a night.
Whether it be daytime or nighttime,
Don’t forget to remember me.

Even when it seems you are all alone:
And there’s no one to hear your voice.
Even when no one stands by you.
Even when no one believes in you.
And everybody turns his back on you,
Don’t forget to remember me.

Whether it be sunrise or sunset.
Whether it be seed time or harvest time.
Whether it be good times or bad times.
Whether it be day time or night time.
Whether it be time of birth or be it time of death.
Don’t forget to remember me.

There will be times when you will have plenty:
And your cup will surely overflow.
There will be times when you will be empty:
And there is nothing left to grow.
There will always be such times as these.
Don’t forget to remember me.

In the season when the lake is frozen.
In the season when the flowers blossom.
In the season when the storm rages
In the season when the harvest comes plenty.
In any season that comes and goes by.
Don’t forget to remember me.

When you can’t understand what is going on.
When there are more questions than the answers you get.
When you can’t find a way out of all your troubles.
When all you ask is ‘why?’ and wonder ‘why?’
When things get out of your control, and you want to give up.
Don’t forget to remember me.

I was stripped naked to give you covering.
I was crowned with thorns to make you rule your world.
I bore the cross to make you cross over.
I shod my blood to give you life.
I gave up life to make you live.
Don’t forget to remember me.

In all you do and not want to do.
In all you think and not want to think
In all you say and all you hear
In all your laurels and in all your loss
Whether in all or in nothing at all
Don’t forget to remember me.

Youth in Ukraine

November 16, 2011

I met a remarkable young man who has a passion for young people in Ukraine.  Usually we hear about people after they have achieved some significant goal.  Chris Loux’s significance is not his achievement (yet) but his relationship to the Lord.  He is a work in progress and by reading his story, you get an inspiring insight into the transforming work of the Lord in a young man’s life.  He’s an American, a Gringo, who’s been to Ukraine twice.  Now he’s got a vision that infects others.



Okay, where’s Ukraine.  Geography lesson (that I just gave myself): check out the map!



Now give his story a read . . . and consider praying for him.



Two years ago I was asked to step in, at the last minute, and lead a team overseas to Ukraine to teach English to Ukrainian youth at a summer camp in the heart of the Carpathian Mountains. I had never been overseas and I had never been on a proper mission trip before. So, at first blush, I was inclined to say, “No.” However, there was a sense of adventure and a tug upon my conscience not to pass this opportunity up. So I agreed to lead the team and start the support raising process and training with my new team. My prayer was simple, “God, if this is meant to be, you will bring everything to pass. I trust you.”

My church back home has a long-standing partnership with Josiah Venture, a missions organization concentrated in Eastern Europe whose vision is to see the youth of that post-communist region affected and transformed by the Good News that only Jesus Christ can bring to the weary, the tired, and the lost. My trip in 2010 was no exception and we continued to partner with Josiah Venture to provide them a team to teach English at one of their many summer camps.

My experience in 2010 was nothing short of a revelation. Having never been overseas to experience what life, or Christianity, is like in another culture, I was unprepared for the divine surprise and adventure that was given to me in those seventeen days. For one, even getting to our destination was an adventure; we traveled on a train for over seventeen hours from Warsaw, Poland to L’viv, Ukraine with nothing but the trust that God would provide and allow us to arrive safely in L’viv. True to form, the Lord proved to be right there alongside us as we overcame language barriers and switching trains in five minutes and the many strange and peculiar characters we encountered along the way.

Josiah Venture’s model for English Camp is to empower the local church by providing them the resources necessary to host camps throughout Eastern Europe. God’s Design Church was the name of the church that we partnered with in 2010. They are a small church out of Lutsk, Ukraine whose numbers barely crest fifty. They actually only meet once a month corporately. The rest of the time they choose to meet in each other’s homes.

My first impression of the men and women of God’s Design Church was that they acted more like a family than a church. Ironically, that is the way that God would have us relate to one another, as brothers and sisters in Christ. Throughout camp I was astonished by the love that was expressed in their interactions with each other and with us. Although an enormous language and cultural barrier threatened to divide us (only a handful of Ukrainians actually spoke English) the Lord worked to unite our hearts together in a display of Spirit-filled friendship that swooned my heart like nothing else.

I was moved so deeply by my experience in Ukraine that summer that, upon returning to America, I began praying for God to allow me to return in 2011. I believe that once you’ve tasted the sweetness of God’s fruit in foreign missions you will hunger for more. I was never convinced of the wonder of the phrase “God’s heart for the nations” until I was actually there, in another culture and another country, Read the rest of this entry »

Tanzania Report

September 15, 2010

These are the men and women who touched my heart.  I hope I had just a portion of the impact on them that they had on me.  The three White guys (wazungu in Swahili) in the front row are us Americans.  To my left is Paul Smith, a doctoral student from the University of Toronto and a Dallas Seminary graduate; to his left is Eric deLeeuwerk, a current DTS student.

Indonesia: Natural Disaster with Supernatural Follow-up

February 6, 2009

img_22741A few weeks before Thanksgiving, I joined a small group from PCPC (Park Cities Presbyterian Church) and traveled to Indonesia to offer a pilot counselor-training program to local believers; and they received it with great appreciation.  We taught various aspects of counseling theory, spiritual perspectives, and skill development.  The need for counseling has opened the door for a cooperative co-existence with Muslims. Laurie and I held individual training sessions with the local Tengku (the Indonesian title for an “Imam”) who was the Muslim spiritual leader of twelve villages in the area. I also had the privilege of meeting with students at a small seminary there.

In 2004 the world’s attention shifted to this area when an underwater earthquake just off the coast of Indonesiaimg_22411 triggered a wall of water six stories high that crashed upon the city. In addition to wiping out 44% of their population, these waters carried huge ships like corks and left them stranded three miles inland.  Several excellent before-and-after photos have been presented in Boston.com.

Prior to the tsunami this Aceh (pronounced “Ah-chay”) region was one of the most dangerous places in the world for non-Muslims. Yet the tsunami’s flood waters opened the flood doors of aid and relief work to come in from the outside world. Not only were non-governmental organizations and expatriates welcomed for the first time, but also other Indonesians who were barred entrance before. Even more amazing was the tolerance of many of the Christians (both Indonesian and foreign). Nearly four years later, these open doors allowed our group to come and serve alongside our Christian brothers and sisters. Should we mourn these losses or delight in the opportunities?  Our answer is “Yes, both.”

While God has moved to create a large network of seminaries and training sites across Indonesia, our Christian brothers and sisters there still lack proper training in either the Bible or in counseling.  Nevertheless, I was very impressed and humbled by how they put into practice everything they know.  If we proportionally used the resources we possess here in the U.S., we would turn our whole country on end for Jesus.
I saw Indonesian Christians who are bold, but not reckless.  They are active in setting forth the Gospel for others to consider, but they are careful to stay respectful.   When I asked the seminary students if their plans to plant churches in this area were dangerous, they looked at me with puzzlement, as though saying, “Of course.  Isn’t it dangerous to be a Christian?”

Yes, we mourn the tragic loss of so many lives and structures, but we rejoice in the opportunity to help rebuild the people and to train them beyond what they could have known before. The long plane rides and the mosquitoes spawned by the rice paddies are but a small taste of the discomfort our Lord encountered when he left the intimate presence of his Father to come offer us salvation.  Our local church continues to scope out possible opportunities for counselor training, English as a foreign language training and medical missions.

By the way, this barge came to rest three miles inland!  The picture of our group (above) was taken atop the deck.


[edited addition 1/4/2009: Time Magazine just honored the fifth anniversary of the tsunami with an article and many graphic and informative links.  Click here]

Puente Nuevo: “The New Bridge”

July 17, 2008

The view from our hotel window in Ronda (southern Spain) provided a breathtaking scene of what a bridge can do. This “Puente Nuevo” (New Bridge) replaced the “Puente Viejo” (old bridge), or Moorish bridge, originally built in 1616. Construction of the new bridge under the direction of José Martin de Aldehuela took 42 years from 1751-1793. Its story illustrates the importance of a bridge’s foundation, because the old bridge collapsed in 1740, causing the death of 50 people. The lesson to me is this: If I want to be a reliable bridge, I’d better be well anchored on both sides. For example, since I attempt to integrate the fields of psychology and theology, I need to stay current with each field beyond the foundations laid with academic degrees in each.

The gorge itself pictures what happens to many marriages over time. Maybe it’s from erosion from the top down; maybe it’s caused by underground rivers that allow softer material to cave in. Either way, the rift deepens and widens until it’s impossible to get from one side of the city to the other. Sometimes husbands and wives seem to be separated by such a gorge that “oneness” seems impossible to achieve. Then a bridge is required and that requires time, money, planning and effort. But the result can be beautiful and well as functionally unifying.

An interesting criticism of this bridge is that it is built so much like a wall that it can obstruct the flow of water at the bottom of the Tajo Gorge. Parallel: Counselors need to be careful not to get in the way of the client’s “flow.” Motto: be strong, but don’t get in the way of progress.

Click here for some really cool pictures of the bridge and if you like that, click here for another one. It’s an awesome sight.

As I was surfing around the net, I ran across a blog that specializes in pictures and stories of bridges around the world and through the centuries. It’s worth a visit I think.

A Bridge: A Picture of My Life

July 16, 2008

This bridge connects Portugal (on the left) with Spain (on the right). I took the picture in early June but the image has resonated in my mind for the past month and a half. One reason is that bridges, in general, are both functional and aesthetic. Usually, things are attractive but not very useful, or else they are very useful but ugly. I don’t know exactly how people used to get from one side to the other, but I’m confident it was not as convenient as this 2-minute ride across this stunningly graceful span.

A second reason the notion of “bridge” has stuck with me is that I like to see my role in life as a bridge. A bridge doesn’t force itself on anyone, but if the two sides chose to utilize it, both sides are enriched. As this second picture shows, the ride across the bridge often looks a lot different than the view from a distance, but can be very enjoyable process as well. In my counseling, I regularly link male and female ways of thinking, of talking, of dealing with conflict, etc. I like to provide a link between despair and hope, often in the form of a clearer perspective of who God is and how we can attune ourselves to His ways. I love to connect the “achieving mentality” with the “relational mentality” because they have so much to offer each other. Similarly, I get a charge out of integrating the concrete with the abstract mind. I invite your comments below on how many other ways you see people differing, like Big-picture/Detail, Do-er/Thinker, Shaper/Adapter, etc.

Read the rest of this entry »