Sunday, July 15, 2018

Friends, Not the TV Show


I was down to the point of sniffing socks this morning. It's the last day of this trip. I look forward to heading home and being with Kathy.
As I reflect on my time in Chuuk, I am struck by the power friendship. I have been able to spend time with a couple of friends who are my allies in ministry. The currency of friendship is clear between us. Each of us has his own work. There are areas of our ministries that overlap, and so an outsider could look at some of the conversations that have taken place the last few days, and say, "I understand. The work missionary number 1 is doing has this common interest with missionary number 2, so it makes perfect that he says good things about what Number 2 is doing, because if Number 2 succeeds it will help Number 1." That observation is technically correct but entirely wrong. The fact of the matter is, the three of us are friends--friends in the way that comes through in some key passages in the Book of Proverbs.
  • Proverbs 17:17 speaks about the consistency of true friendship
  • The ESV translation of Proverbs 18:24, brings out the distinction between those we call "friends" in the casual sense and those we can count on even when times are hard.
  • Proverbs 27:6 points out that this is the kind of friend who will "wound" his friend rather than let them go the wrong way.
In addition to spending times with these friends, I was able to make some new friends. Friendship transcends national boundaries, skin color and, though it makes it harder, even differences in language. While I was here in this little corner of the world, I was reminded about a friendship that has even survived death. Three decades after Dave's death, his friendship still feeds my soul.
I am convinced that in heaven we will still be who we are. If that is so, then might it be possible that friendship, unhindered by distance, time, language, or death, will continue?

It's Something To Think About.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

When I honor others I am the one who gains the benefit.

One of the criticisms that I have read of 21st Century life in the West is that we tend to give undue preference to those who happen to be alive right now. We think we are smarter than those who have gone before us. When there is a way that things used to be done, and a way that we do things now, our default position is that the current procedure is better. "We finally got it figured out." When have you heard an advertisement bragging that a business or organization is on "the back side of the knife"? Everybody wants to be "cutting edge." The Edsel was new, so were 8-track tapes, and Beta video recorders. How'd that work out? Clearly, the cell phone most STTA readers use to access these thoughts I offer represents an incredible technical advance over the front porch where people used to share something about which to think. We ought to ask, however, "In the biggest sense of the word, is the pocket device that connects me to the world better?"  Does it connect or separate?

I'm in Chuuk as I write this. Technically Chuuk is one of the four states that make up the Federated States of Micronesia, a collection of Islands in the Western Pacific. In the way the Bible uses the word, Chuuk is a "nation." It has its own language and culture. People here aren't FSM-ers, they are Chuukese. I'm here to honor a church leader who recently died. The body of the deceased arrived by jet airplane and was transported to his home island on a boat powered by Yamaha, but the ways of honoring his memory, and seeking to comfort his family are rooted in ways that don't require gasoline or a battery. Physical presence is maximized. A willingness to put other things aside is evident. There is a deliberate focus on reconciliation and learning lessons from the dead that will help us move forward with life.
When we think of honoring someone our initial thought is that the benefit is given to the one honored. I'm being reminded that honoring another--even, perhaps especially, when the one being honored is no longer here to receive the honor--means those of us who slow down and take time to show-our-respects receive much more than we give. 
I wish we could sit down on the porch and talk about it. It's not cutting edge, but it would be better.
It's Something To Think About.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Life is Short

I apologize. STTA hasn't provided much to ponder recently. Today, though life--or I suppose I should day "death," got me to thinking. A friend of mine, a fellow pastor, about ten years younger than me died. My friend graduated from Pacific Islands University and served as the chair of our Board of Trastees, so I thought it my duty to let others know of Hiob's passing. I realize that most of you weren't Hiob Ngirachemoi's friend, as I was. Still, I think what I had to say about his passing might give you reason to think about life and death, and perhaps make better use of the former.
I only have a few minutes to write about my friend and colleague, Hiob. My time constraints, as Hiob's passing, remind me of the vapor-like fragility and brevity of ur time on earth.
I am privileged to call Hiob, "My friend." That is a privilege that Hiob shared with many. As one who worked with him as well as enjoyed his friendship, I both enjoyed and was frustrated by Hiob's ability to focus in on the person in front of him. Sometimes that focus caused him to forget other things, but for the person who was the recipient of his attention, it was like a good satisfying meal--all you could want and more.
In 2010, Hiob spent a day showing Kathy and me around the island of Babeldaob. We heard the story of how he broke, and almost lost, his arm when he was a boy. I also know that in spite of that stunted, misformed limb Hiob was a respectable athlete. It certainly didn't prevent him from doing what he wanted to do. Over the last couple of years when I talked to Hiob on the phone I would always ask him if he had been fishing. Fishing did his heart good.
When Hiob showed me around his home island and then later when he took a group of us camping in the Rock Islands (one of Palau's treasures), Hiob's pride in, and love for, Palau was obvious. I once commented to someone else who knows Hiob, that he might be the most Palauan person I know.
At the time of his death, Hiob was Pastor of Koror Evangelical Church, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Pacific Islands University, and involved in many other organizations. His counsel was sought by various leaders in Palau and beyond. Most significantly Hiob was wife to Leah and Daddy to Micah and Jireh. They are in California. Hiob had been traveling in the States when the illness that took him suddenly came on him.
Please pray for those Pastor Hiob left behind. Pray for those who will be called on to speak at the services that honor him and point others to the Saviour Hiob loved.
I look forward to the day when I will see a big smile, hear a hearty "Alli," and be engulfed in a hug from two big arms. There is a river of life in heaven. I don't see why there won't be fish to catch. I look forward to sitting next to my friend and catching a few while we catch up. 

The picture above is of Hiob on the day eight years ago, when we toured his home. The one on the left is of the PIU Trustees at our last meeting.
Often my parting words to people are, "Live for Jesus." Thinking of life's here-and-then-gone quality, those three words make all the more sense.

It's Something To Think About.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Up Close and Evil

This morning the young lady who is the first smiling face that most visitors meet when they enter our office at Pacific Islands University, was met by another smiling face.

Experts indicate that there are two million of these reptiles on the small piece of land known as Guam (here). Because of them the bird population has been devastated. OK, maybe my prejudice is showing, but, smiling looks aside, I think this critter is a pretty good personification of evil. Actually the smile adds to that evil image.

Whether we are thinking of Brown Tree Snakes or other kinds of deadly evils, we tend to think that we are safe. In our home, in our office, in the space where the real me dwells, we assume that we are free of the influence of evil. The snake on the desk reminded me that this isn't so. Evil isn't only out there. It is in here. In Ephesians 2, the Apostle Paul described the reality of mankind's fallen-ness.
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.
Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest (Eph. 2:1–3). 

Note a couple of realities:
  • There is a combination of forces and persons at work here.
  • Some are external to us, the "prince of the power of the air," Satan, for instance.
  • Others, like our basic nature and our lusts, inhabit the space that we call "myself."
  • The implied reality is that we, by our own efforts, are powerless to escape the evil that surrounds and inhabits us.
As I write, some of the best and brightest are seeking to rid our island of this slithery invader. Others are helping preserve bird species that have been eliminated on Guam--often on islands where the brown tree snake has not yet arrived--so that they can be reintroduced once their reptilian enemy has been brought under control. In spite of the best efforts of these dedicated folk, the snakes may win. Evil is persistent.

In the bigger scene, though, a force far mightier than USA Department of Agriculture has promised that evil will not win in this world. Read Romans 8:18-39, and/or Revelation 21:1-22:6. For the moment, don't get hung up on figuring out the details, just rejoice in the victory.

It's Something To Think About.

Monday, June 11, 2018

A Grandpa Moment


For most of the year, Kathy and I live on the other side of the world. We enjoy it, but we also enjoy the opportunities we have to visit here in the mainland USA. I don't want to offend the rest of you, but at the top of the list of why we enjoy visiting here are Christopher, Carrington, Madeline, Kendal, Silas, Kira, and Ava--our grandchildren. On this trip, we have been able to see all of them, except Carrington. She was busy at college finishing up projects and studying for finals. Like all of our grandchildren, we are proud of her.
I recently had a conversation with a Godly gentleman who has been getting a senior-discount for a while. Neither of us is done, but both of us recognize that our time to make a difference is limited. One way of maximizing that is to invest in those who still have a long time to be involved in active service. People ask me, "Are you retired?" I guess technically I am. I draw Social Security, the church where I was privileged serve as pastor for 40+ years gave me the "emeritus" title, I've been excused from any expectation that I'll participate in any athletic endeavors at PIU, and I'm comfortable with the old-guy personae. Yet, I'm probably busier than I have been in years. Clearly the focus of my activity, though, is not on what I can do; it is on working with others--equipping them to do good work long after I can't do anything.

It is quite likely that my youngest grandchild will live into the 22nd Century. All of them will be making a difference in the world long after I'm gone. While grandchildren aren't the only heritage we leave behind they do powerfully illustrate the concept. What will remain?

Heritage, it's not only a topic for we gray-heads. Even you youngsters ought to ask yourselves, "What will I leave behind?"

It's Something to Think About.

PS: The picture, above, is of the 2018 commencement exercises at Pacific Islands University, where Kathy and I are privileged to serve. Find out more about PIU, and this part of the heritage we hope to leave in the current edition of
Live Ready, a publication of Liebenzell Misssion, USA. Click on the link above or on the picture to the left, to find out more.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Lessons from Dissonance

Learning from

the sound of nails

on the


Dissonance: a tension or clash resulting from the combination of two disharmonious or unsuitable elements (Google Dictionary).
There are many things in life that would be dissonant, if it were left up to me to bring harmony, consonance, the environmental shalom that is dissonance's antonym, to my environment. I enjoy music that goes straight to my heart and makes me feel good, noble or powerful. I enjoy sitting down in a room that has an "Ahh-ness" about it. Likely what I mean is fen shui stripped of its religious overtones. A meal well-balanced, properly-proportioned, and skillfully-served brings a pleasure that transcends nourishment and taste, though those are important elements. All of those are aspects of life that feel right to me but are beyond my grasp. I greatly enjoy the gifts and labor of others who are able to make those environments and experiences a reality. If  I were to attempt any of them--and I have on occasion tried some of them--the result would be cacophony, disarray,.and perhaps gastric distress. A walk along a creek on a spring morning, or a hike up a hill, covered in new-fallen snow, when the moon is full, or a cup of coffee at the top of a cliff with the surf cascading in its endless rhythm are examples of our Creator's ability to create a world that embraces us in its rightness. The pile of rubble that was a house, visiting a friend at the end of a battle with cancer, a family in chaos, or the ravages of government gone bad are examples of sin's power to twist, distort, violate, and hollow-out until the world is filled with a screeching sound that wails, "This isn't right."

It is at this point that dissonance does its work. Our God, Who is the supreme of order and rightness, has brought even the diss-ness of this world under His sovereign will. There is an unmistakable wisdom in the answer of the fool who explained why he kept hitting himself with a hammer, "Because it feels so good when I stop. Don't rush out to the hardware store, but the much-bruised fellow makes a point, a point that is made without the idiocy in Romans 8. Read it. Think about it. Repeat. Do it again. Let the truth, especially the reality of two words, "in hope" in verse 24 soak down into your bones.
I helped my son move into a "new" house. The list of things to be fixed is, as the saying goes, as long as my arm. He and his family didn't move here to settle down n the chaos. He and his wife did some calculations. They conclude that it is within their means, that they have the skills necessary to make this a house where the kitchen faucet doesn't make the sound of a distressed animal, the air conditioner goes on and off when it is supposed to, and where the cabinet door in the bathroom swings on hinges instead of lying in the floor. In only the few days I have been here I see order emerging. I have hope--I believe it is an entirely realistic hope--that this house, somewhat battered by neglect and even outright abuse, will become a haven from the turmoil of the world--dare I say, "tranquil"?

God is doing that in His world. The dissonance that surrounds us should serve to remind us that this is not the way it is supposed to be, it's not the way it is going to be, and by His grace, God has given me the opportunity to be part of the project that makes all things right.
I don't expect you to enjoy that clunking sound from the transmission on your car or the bitter taste of that coffee that's been on the heater too long, and I'm certainly not asking you to go around saying that what is very bad is really good. I am encouraging you, however, to join me in a project. When confronted with life's dissonances, let's be reminded that God is going to make this right, and, then, let's ask ourselves, "What can we do about it right now?"

It's STTA.

(The STTA link above will take you to an archive of many Things to Think About. Enjoy & Think.)

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Happy Mother's Day, to all Mom's

Thank God for


My grandmothers raised families during the Great Depression. Granny, Dad's mom, was widowed with three boys to raise. Dad was just a toddler when his dad died. I grew up hearing stories of heads nearly crushed by wagons backing up, an old mule who suddenly came to life when a young Audley, my dad. dug into her side with an old spur he had found. Did I mention dad was carrying a basket of eggs to take to the store to trade for needed supplies? No doubt dad embellished the tale, but I'm sure the feat of riding a run-away mule without breaking any of the precious eggs, came nowhere near the real difficulty of being a single-mom long before that term had ever been invented. She saw all three boys go to war. One didn't return, another returned with a complete disability. Granny helped nurse Uncle Mc back to health.The third moved an all-day train-ride away to raise me and my siblings. Never the less granny was a prime influence in my life. When I visitied, Granny took me fishing, played dominoes and Rook with me, and I won't begin to guess how many puzzles she and I put together. I'll never have raisin pie as good as she made until I get to heaven.
Grandma married Grandpa when she was but a child. She managed a household funded by money made from breaking mules--on occasion, she sewed up the gashes opened by mule hooves on grandpa's head--from the sale of country hams, and from the proceeds of a succession of small farms where she and grandpa raised mom and six siblings. Every bowl of vegetable soup I have ever had, is but a poor substitute for the real thing, which Grandma Hargrove served with cornbread still hot from the oven.
I have two sons who serve the Lord with distinction, and seven grandchildren who love Jesus. Often people say, that my sons are following in my footsteps. Perhaps, but a much more important influence is their mom, whom they saw reading her Bible and praying every morning. She continues not only to be "Mom" to her boys, "Ma" to her grandkids, but now "Momma Kat" to a group of young adults from the far side of the world.

You know my Daughters-in-law (second and third in the picture abave) must be great moms. They are the mothers of seven wonderful kids. I think both have learned about being a ministry wife from their Mother-in-law. They love my boys, my grandkids, and Jesus. One hauled two little ones to the other side of the world and back. She runs a household that is open to a steady flow of  mostly college students, and does it with grace. The other like the lobster for dinner was dropped into the caldron of a fully formed family, and began pulling together the pieces of lives torn by divorce and abandonment before her wedding album had arrived from the photagrapher. My family is greatly enriched by Nancy and Tanisha.
Beyond my family, I have been enriched by moms who loved sick children--some who were never well for their way-too-short lives--others who again and again embraced children who went astray, and brought a semblance of order to homes made tumultuous by maladies physical, financial, natural, and emotional.
In his book about sin, Not the Way It's Supposed to Be, Cornelius Plantinga points out how sin takes the Shalom (peace) out of the world. Moms are like the Shalom Brigade. They push back the chaos, often literally, bring the light and warmth of love into a world made cold and dark by hatred, and carve out havens of peace in a world torn by strife. Manay of those, I seek to honor, this Mother's Day, aren't mothers in the biological sense of the word. I think of those who adopted children as well as those who mothered those of us who needed a mom that day. Even though we are in our grandparenting years, Kathy and I currently have some women in our lives who mother us. I even have in mind some guys who step into the role of mom. For a while my son was Mr. Mom.

To all of you moms, in whatever sense of the word,

Happy Mother's Day.

It's STTA.

(The STTA link above will take you to an archive of many Things to Think About. Enjoy & Think.)

If you would like to watch some of Mama Kat's kids go through an important step in their lives click here. It will take you to a site where you'll find a link to a video of PIU's graduation and a table of contents to help you navigate to particular points in the ceremony.