Friday, March 18, 2016

New Team

Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised:

There have been some recent changes to the IMB team here in Bangkok, and I now have a new supervisor and a new team - but one with very familiar faces.  Read the remainder of the blog if you'd like to know the details, but suffice it to say I will now be working together in ministry much more closely with these six friends than we did previously, and I am so excited to see how God will use us together to further His Kingdom here in Bangkok!

Prayer Necessities:

1.  Please lift up our new team and ask that we would be one in heart and mind as we seek to start new churches here in Bangkok.  Ask for the Father to mature us and to lead us to those who will choose to follow Him, and ask that we would be diligent to guard the unity of the body.

2.  Please be in prayer specifically for "Pearl" and "Jess," two ladies I've recently met who are both considering following Jesus.  Pray that He would reveal Himself to them and that they would recognize that giving up everything to follow Him is completely worth it.

3.  Pray that I would have wisdom to know how to proceed in some upcoming ministry changes.

Inquiring Minds Wanna Know:

Some of you might be aware of this, and others might not but, towards the end of 2015, the IMB went through some major changes.  Due to financial hardship, the organization was in a precarious position regarding its future.  In order to put the agency back into a more stable financial position, our leadership made the very difficult decision to cut personnel.  They offered a generous compensation package to anyone over the age of 50 and with at least five years of service with the organization who would choose to voluntarily retire early.  Following this phase, they offered a smaller package to the remainder of us who were not eligible for early retirement and gave us the opportunity to resign voluntarily as well.  

Our leaders were hoping that 600-800 of our personnel, between field missionaries and home office staff, would take the package.

More than 1100 accepted.

Prior to December of 2015, the IMB had approximately 4800 personnel on the foreign field.  As of now, there are around 3800.  It is a 20% reduction in our workforce.  Our numbers haven't been this low in 25 years.

Over the last several months, I've shed so many tears over and said so many goodbyes to beloved brothers and sisters that I cherish, people who have invested years of blood, sweat, and tears into their people groups, men and women whose experience and wisdom and relationships, quite frankly, cannot be replaced.

And I've often wondered how we as an organization would ever recover from such a loss.

In the last three months, I've helped friends sort through and categorize any number of items as they sought to pack up the minutiae that make up a life.  I've made two separate airport trips with three of my very dearest friends in this country, have helped them push multiple suitcases that were so very inadequate to hold everything that would remind them of this life and hoping that their memories and hearts were sufficient to store all they would need.  I've given ridiculously quick hugs goodbye at that same airport - though it was far from the minutes-... no, HOURS-long embrace I wanted to bestow - simply because none of us wanted to break down in so public a venue.
Saying goodbye to precious co-workers

And I walked away from all of that wondering how I personally would ever recover from such a loss.

But the Father is good and ever faithful.  He knows our deepest needs and exactly how to meet them.  And He knows them even better than we do.

A few weeks ago, just as all of these goodbyes were coming to an end, I was informed that our team would be undergoing a major overhaul.  While we previously had one large team of IMB personnel in Bangkok, we would now be divided into two teams with two different leaders.  Those changes went into effect immediately.

At first, I wasn't sure what to think.  I've been on the field long enough now to recognize that change comes frequently, and it is in your best interest to adapt quickly.  But that is sometimes not a very simple task.

Over these last few weeks, though, it has become obvious that this change is something that God has brought along for good in the lives of each of us who was affected.  Where my previous team had members doing such a variety of ministries that it was nearly impossible to work together, this new group is made up of a smaller number of people, seven of us, who are planning to work as a team to start new churches.  We have spent some time getting to know each other and learning about the strengths and giftings of our teammates so that we can work better together to accomplish the goal of seeing new disciples made and new churches started here in Bangkok.  I can't begin to tell you how much this excites me!

While in South America, I experienced real community with my team.  We frequently lived in extremely difficult circumstances and learned to depend on each other.  There were times when my team partner and I were the only believers in the area, and we had to rely on each other to provide true church, true family.  I learned what real community was like, what it should be and what it should not be.

It's been more difficult to find that community in Bangkok, for the reasons detailed above.  This division into two closely-knit teams with real community on each will be good for all of our personnel in the city and will, ultimately, be better for the people we have come to reach.  After all, the kind of church we are will be reflected in the kind of churches we plant.  If we are individualistic, whatever churches we begin will be as well.  But, if we learn to work together as a unified body, that's what our churches will look like, too.  I personally prefer the latter.

As much as I still feel the grief and the sharp pain of those recent losses, I feel like, through this new community, I am starting to heal.  God Himself is knitting that gaping wound back together, and it is a joy to watch Him do it!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Real Enemy

 Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised:

Thanksgiving with my parents and some Thai friends
(Miang is next to my mom in the back row)
I recently had a wonderful time with seven American friends who came to spend two weeks with me in Thailand, followed by a five-week visit from my parents.  Prior to these visits, I had been feeling discouraged and exhausted but, after the extended time with such strong believers, I am encouraged and ready for the battle.  It was such a blessing to be with so many loved ones for so long!

Prayer Necessities:

1.  Please lift up my Thai partner Miang and me as we are trying to establish relationships in some new areas.  Pray that our Gospel presentations to those we meet would be very clear and directed by the Spirit and that the Father would lead us to divine appointments where we encounter women who truly want to hear the Good News.
Helping to baptize Ja was a wonderful experience!

2.  Continue to pray for Ja and Best as they grow in their new faith.  They are both great encouragements to me as I see the changes in them constantly, and Ja, in particular, is sharing her faith with the students at the after-school tutoring center she and her mom lead.  We are hoping to start a new Bible study group at her house after the new year, with the plan to invite any of her interested students to come and learn more about following Jesus.  Please pray with us that this group would develop into a strong and healthy body of new believers.

3.  Please pray for a Christmas party hosted by a local ministry to women in the red-light areas.  Miang and I will be involved in inviting many of these ladies to come and join us for a night of good food, gifts, and a Gospel presentation.  Pray that many of them will be interested in learning more about Christ and will ultimately choose to follow Him.

Inquiring Minds Wanna Know:

Life has its distractions.  If you're anything like me, you feel surrounded by them all the time.

Busyness is my constant companion.  My work and the relationships I strive to maintain take me in varying directions throughout the week, and I feel as if I'm running around like a chicken with its head cut off most of the time.  I'm sure the vast majority of you can relate.  Even when I'm not working, there are still so many things that clamor for my attention:  Internet, music, TV, sports, texting, and any number of other things.  Those things keep my mind occupied and take my focus away from where it needs to be.

As if the daily distractions weren't enough, the leaders of my mission agency (and yours, if you're Southern Baptist), the International Mission Board, made a big announcement a few months ago that 600-800 of our veteran mission personnel needed to leave the organization by the end of this year in order to achieve greater financial stability.  The beginning phase of this process was a voluntary retirement incentive offered to all personnel aged 50 and up who have at least five years of service.   Wow, 50 and 5? Let me tell you, those numbers are staggeringly low.

Since the initial announcement, many of my friends, people I love dearly, have chosen to resign, and it breaks my heart to see them go.  And beyond my own selfish desires to keep my friends here with me, the missionaries around the world who have taken this incentive and are returning to the US represent hundreds of years of cross-cultural service.  I am grieving because I will miss so many of them so deeply, and I am grieving because it seems to me that sending people home from the mission field runs counter to Christ's command to pray that more workers will be sent into these harvest fields.  Don't get me wrong; I know God is sovereign, and He is not surprised by this.  His plans will not be thwarted, not even when we are not doing as we should.  But I cannot seem to keep this subject off my mind lately.

In addition, our world is absolutely rife with fear.  Nearly every day, it seems we're hearing of another terrorist attack, another world disaster, another plane crash.  Police are shooting citizens, and citizens are shooting police.  There is a refugee crisis, and no one knows what to do with people who might be terrorists or might be on the run from terrorists.  I can't open up my Facebook page without seeing friends on both sides of these arguments throwing darts at one another on social media, and it all boils down to fear.  We are absolutely terrified, and our government and its laws seem completely powerless to protect us.

As I've been thinking about all of these things lately, it occurred to me just how effective our enemy really is at misdirection.  While we've been thinking about the next thing on our to-do lists or mourning the retirement of friends or arguing with one another about whether refugees should or should not enter our country, we have forgotten both who our enemy is and who our leader is.

There is a line from the movie, "The Hunger Games, that has been on my mind quite a bit lately.  I realize that is a secular film, but I think there's some truth to this particular quote:  "Remember who the real enemy is."  That's the context of this passage, where Paul urges the Corinthian church to forgive one of its members:

" that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes."  (2 Cor. 2:11)

We spend far too much time arguing with one another on social media or caught up in our own busy lives, and we have forgotten that we are in a very real war between good and evil that is played out in our lives every day.  We have a very real enemy in the spiritual realm, one who is powerful and resourceful and who is bent on our destruction and one whose schemes we should not underestimate or refuse to acknowledge.  He is good at what he does, and we would be wise to be aware of that.

But the other thing we often forget when our enemy misdirects our attention is that we have a leader, a general, a King, Who is even more powerful and has even better battle tactics than our enemy.  We are guaranteed to win, but wars always result in casualties.  We are given spiritual weapons with which to fight, divinely powerful ones with which we can demolish "strongholds,... arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God" (2 Cor. 10:4-5) and spiritual armor to wear (Eph. 6:10-18).

And, in the midst of this battle that is raging around us, we must NOT fall victim to our enemy's scheme of distraction.  We have been given a point of focus.  His name is Jesus,

"Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."  (Heb. 12:2)

The war will be won.  Let's stay on target.
With seven wonderful American friends and our housekeeper at our rented beach house in Phuket, Thailand

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

New Family Members!

Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised:

We have two new family members that I am now discipling!  Ja and Best both came to Christ a couple of weeks ago and are learning how to walk with Jesus daily.  It is exciting to be a part of their lives and to see how they are changing!  (Read on for more details.)

Prayer Necessities:

1.  Please be praying for me as I disciple Ja and Best each week.  Pray that I will have wisdom to know what to teach and how to teach it, and pray that I will live my life before them in such a way that they can follow me as I follow Christ.  Please pray that they would search the Scriptures to ensure that what they are learning aligns with God's Word and that they would be obedient to it.

2.  Pray for a group of believers at The Well that will begin meeting together as a church for the first time this week.  Ask that the Spirit would direct us, that we would hear from Him when we meet together, and that He would add to our number.

Dinner at the restaurant where one of our friends now works  
3.  Please ask that the Father would bless our outreach efforts into the red-light areas each week.  I go with two different teams (one Tuesday, one Wednesday) each week.  Please ask that He would draw each team together in unity and that we would reflect Christ to all we meet.  Ask that He would continue to grow our friendships with the women there and that we would have opportunities to share the Gospel with them.

Inquiring Minds Wanna Know:

I had something entirely different in mind for this blog, but something incredible happened this week, and it became my top priority to share with you.  The Lord allowed me to lead my first new believer to Christ!  And, consistent with His character, He even gave above and beyond what I had asked for and gave me not just one but TWO new believers.  I am still bursting with excitement, so you'll probably have to forgive my excessive use of exclamation points in this blog. :)

Let me tell you how it all came to be:

About a year ago, I got a phone call from a missionary friend who lives in another city in Thailand.  She had a friend who knew a lady in Bangkok who wanted to learn English with a native speaker.   Did my friend know anyone who might be willing to teach her?

So my friend called me and asked if I would be willing to do so and, I must admit, I was really reluctant.  This lady was not part of my target group of women working in the red-light areas and, honestly, I can't think of many things I enjoy doing less than teaching English.  I just felt like it would be a distraction from what I was sent here to do.

But then my friend said the magic words:  "She's interested in spiritual things."

So I began meeting with Ja weekly.  We chatted, we played games, we did grammar exercises, we did vocabulary quizzes, and we had a great time together.  From time to time, she would also bring her 16-year-old daughter Best to our English lessons, and I became great friends with both of them.

But the main thing I wanted to do in our English lessons was to share the most important thing there is, so we always read chapters from the Bible during our time together.  We started at creation, and Ja really ate it up.  And she had all of these amazing questions:  Why did God put the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the garden?  Could the snake walk before God cursed him?  Why didn't God accept Cain's offering?  Why did God destroy all of the people with the flood?  Why did God command Abraham to obey Sarah's wishes and send Hagar and Ishmael away?  Why did God forgive David for such terrible sins as murder and adultery?  Should we pray to Mary?  And the list goes on...

Each week, Ja and I would have these wonderful spiritual conversations, and we always reviewed the previous stories we had studied as well.  At one point, I brought a friend from church with me to our lesson so that Ja could practice her English with another native speaker.  Ja proceeded to accurately relate the stories from creation all the way through the life of Abraham.  Yeah, it was pretty impressive.

Through all of this, I had multiple opportunities to share the Gospel with her, both in English and in Thai.  But it still seemed like it wasn't getting through.  She seemed to love the stories but would then go to make merit at the Buddhist temple.  I knew that one of the major barriers to the Gospel in Thailand is the idea that Christianity is a Westerner's religion, that it's fine for others but that their religion is Buddhism, and to turn from that is to betray their culture.  So I really wanted her to hear the Gospel from someone in her own culture.

I invited her to a social event my church was having on a Friday night.  I knew she wanted to practice her English as much as possible and wanted Best to practice also, so I thought it would be good if they could come and be with my church, which is about half American and half Thai.  They came that night and had a great time, and Ja left saying she wanted to come back soon.

So, when the church planned a weekend retreat at a nearby province just outside of Bangkok, I invited Ja and Best to come along.  I was hoping the Thai believers at my church would share Christ with her and that she would see Truth in a way that she wasn't hearing it from me.  I was overjoyed when they accepted the invitation.

Riding an ATV at a recent church retreat
Once we arrived at the retreat, there was a group time that evening that involved some discussion of Scripture.  When we got back to our cabin afterward, Ja asked me if she needed to come to church every Sunday because she has some difficulties in doing that at the moment.  I was a little confused by that, as she had only attended one social event and never an actual church service, so I asked her, "Ja, are you saying you want to follow Jesus?"  When she said yes, I was overjoyed!

She then proceeded to explain that she had recently talked to her mom and asked her what she would think if Ja chose to follow Christ, and her mom said it was fine.  So she and Best both wanted to become Christians.

I was shocked, since I really didn't think anything I had been saying was getting through.  I tried to be sure she really understood what she was getting into.  My own problem, when I first became a believer, was thinking that Jesus had saved me but that I could continue to live as I wanted to.  He was basically "fire insurance" (salvation from hell) for me; what I didn't realize until later was that surrendering to Christ meant my life was no longer my own.  It now belonged to Him to do with as He wanted, and it was my responsibility to obey, even if (and probably when) that obedience meant suffering.  I explained all of this to Ja, and she responded quietly, "Yes, I understand."

And still... she wanted to follow.

The next day, as I was teaching Ja and Best how to have a quiet time, Ja began to ask me questions that showed how she is really thinking through how to live out her new faith in her culture.  Things like how to continue to show honor to her Buddhist mother but to only worship the One True God.  It was encouraging to see how real this has become to her.

This past week, Ja and I met for our regular English lesson, which has now become a discipleship lesson done in a mixture of English and Thai.  She and Best, separately, are each reading a chapter a day from the book of Mark.  When I asked how things are going, she told me that they are each praying daily.  Best is reading Mark with wide eyes as if she were reading the latest bestseller.  Ja told me that she herself is sharing the stories she has learned with the kids at the after-school center that she and her mom run.  And we are beginning to discuss baptism, which will occur as soon as possible.

Folks, this lady is for real!  She blesses me in so many ways, and it is a joy to call her and Best my new sisters.  What an encouragement it has been to be a part of someone coming to know Jesus, to see how their lives are changed in an instant, and to watch them "get it" and obey it!  It is sometimes so hard in Thailand to continue to share with people who seem so disinterested, but this one makes it all worth it.

Me with Ja (left) and her 16-year-old daughter Best
 Please pray for your new sisters Ja and Best, that they would grow in maturity and in intimacy with the Lord Jesus and that they would continue to walk in obedience.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Seeing Reality

Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised:

The dangerous situation with our friend D has been resolved.  While she remains in a vulnerable state, she is relatively safe for the moment, and we will continue to work with her.  Thank you so much for your prayers, and praise the Lord for her safety and continued openness to having an ongoing relationship with our team of workers.

Prayer Necessities:

1.  Though I cannot share in great detail about D, I can say that she is at great risk for a variety of dangers.  She has been offered an opportunity to do other work but, sadly, is not yet willing to leave her current life because the money she can make to send home to her family is greater than she could make elsewhere.  This is, unfortunately, a common refrain among this population and one that only Christ can overcome.  Please continue to pray that D will come to know Him as the pearl of great price, the One Who is so much more valuable than any amount of money she could ever make.
The kids from my science class acting out a Bible story

2.  Please lift up my two new Bible classes that I will begin teaching at The Well in the beginning of June.  One class will be evangelistic Bible stories, and the other will be a study in the book of Acts in preparation for trying to start a new church with these women.  Pray that the Father would put the right people in each class and that His Word would dwell in their hearts richly.  Ask that they would grasp the concepts and obey them.
Kids learning about the things that come out of hearts when they overflow

3.  Please pray for me, as I am in an extremely busy phase for the next four weeks with a variety of ministry opportunities.  Honestly, I am exhausted but need to push through and be faithful during this time.  Please pray that my minimal time off would be full of refreshment and rejuvenation from the Lord and that I would be faithfully obedient while at work.

Inquiring Minds Wanna Know:

Recently - meaning within the last five years or so - human trafficking has become a really hot topic.  This is good because it means there is increased awareness that this kind of evil exists, which will, hopefully, lead to some help for those who are trapped in that kind of life.  But I think the limited knowledge that most of us have in regards to those who are involved in prostitution now leads into a somewhat romanticized view of the women and, conversely, an overly hateful view of the men.  With that in mind, let me see if I can correct some misconceptions, mostly based on my own admittedly limited experience in ministry to women involved in the sex industry in Thailand.

1.  Pretty Woman is a load of garbage.
A Bangkok red-light area at night

So many of the women I meet - and their families as well - have the idea that prostitution is their ticket out of poverty.  If this young lady can just find herself a rich Western husband in the bars of the red-light districts of Bangkok, her problems are solved.  In a culture that has no concept of right and wrong as established by the One True God, that is highly promiscuous, and that does not prioritize education, a poor woman's one useful resource is her body, and she will leverage it for the benefit of herself and her loved ones.  The price that she will pay tomorrow is a lot harder to see than the money she can make today.

But here's the reality:  There's nothing pretty or romantic about prostitution.  It's a manipulative power play acted out between two people who are each seeking to gratify their own self-interests, and no one finds true love in it.  It's ugly, it's messy, it's dangerous, and it's unfulfilling.  There's no cute, spunky prostitute with the heart of gold who just needs to find her wealthy and handsome Prince Charming in order to live happily ever after.  There's no Julia Roberts, there's no Richard Gere, and there's no snooty-hotel-manager-turned-best-friend.  There are only two broken people, often from two dramatically different cultures, play-acting at a real relationship while only serving themselves.

Prostitution is rooted in money passing through any number of dirty hands, retains its power through the blatant degradation of women and the more subtle but equally dangerous lowering of expectations for men, and surges forward through the fleeting fulfillments of various lusts.

The hard truth is that there is no happily-ever-after following prostitution.  What exists both in and after prostitution is brokenness and abuse and soul-sickness and shame.  Hollywood doesn't seem to want to capture that on film.

2.  The women are victims.  They're also predators.

Most of us are people of extremes.  We learn about human trafficking and see teenagers who are prostitutes in a culture with very little economic opportunity, and we see them as victims who need to be rescued.  And we're right.  They do need that because they are victims.  But their real victimization is to something far more sinister than a trafficker.  

They're in bondage to sin and have been for their entire lives, and they can do nothing but sin because they do not know Christ.  They only know how to surrender their bodies to the power of sin.  Romans explains:

"Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey - whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?"  (Rom. 3:16)

So, yes, these women are victims.  But they're also predators.  They know only too well the power they have as beautiful women, and they wield seduction like a sharp sword to entice men to their deaths.  Proverbs describes the scenario vividly:

"With much seductive speech she persuades him; with her smooth talk she compels him.  All at once he follows her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as a stag is caught fast till an arrow pierces its liver; as a bird rushes into a snare; he does not know it will cost him his life."  (Prov. 7:21-23)

I've watched this in action, shaking my head in disgust as I watched women physically grabbing the arms of men who were simply trying to walk down a busy street, doing their best to sweet-talk him into taking them home.  This didn't occur on a street in the red-light district, mind you, but on a busy thoroughfare through the downtown area, so these were not men who were actively seeking this out. And when they are actively seeking out the woman, the enticement is all the more powerful.

3.  Men are also both victims and predators.

When I first moved to Bangkok, I prayed that the Lord would help me to not become bitter and hateful toward men.  Having at least a small idea of the things I would eventually see, I knew that the potential was there, because it was very obvious how the customers exploited the women.  But I didn't want to go through life hating half the population of this planet, most of whom were not directly involved in this exploitation, so I asked God for help, and the Father was faithful to answer that prayer.

Pattaya's red-light district in the daytime
During my first week in Thailand, I spent a lot of time walking through the red-light areas in order to familiarize myself with them, and most of that time was spent praying.  As I walked down one particular street in the middle of the afternoon, I passed several open-air bars and saw dozens of older white men, and I found myself so disgusted that I could barely look at them.  I began to pray that the Lord would break the chains that kept these women in that life and that He would free them from their bondage.

Immediately, I heard His quiet voice say, "Don't you think the men are in bondage, too?"

That stopped me in my tracks and totally changed my perspective.  Because yes, yes, they are.  Their bondage may look different than mine and than other women's and even than other men's.  But they are in bondage as well and are desperately in need of Christ just like the rest of us.  They are no more unworthy of compassion and of the Gospel than I was.

4.  Ending prostitution is not and cannot be the ultimate goal.

Estimates vary, but Bangkok has somewhere in the neighborhood of 400,000 prostitutes, and Thailand as a whole has about half a million.  Half.  A.  Million.  500,000.  That is more people than the populations of some cities I've lived in.  It is a staggering number.

Prostitution is frequently referred to as "the world's oldest profession."  While not technically true (according to Genesis, that distinction belongs to farming), it has still been around for quite a while and will, in all likelihood, continue until the Lord returns.  If the goal of my ministry were to end prostitution in Thailand, I would feel completely overwhelmed by the task because it's an exercise in futility.  How does one even begin to stem the flow of a raging sea of women rushing to the city to enter this industry?

Thankfully, the goal God has given me is very different:  It is to make disciples of these women.  While at times, that seems just as impossible as ending prostitution - and it is... for me! - the Lord is the One Who ultimately accomplishes it, and the end results are far more satisfying.

If we manage to successfully end prostitution here, seeing every former sex worker with a "good" job but never introducing them to Jesus, what eternal good have we done?  We have accomplished nothing because those women will still die in their sins, living lives of futility that bring no glory to their Creator.

But if even one person comes to know Christ, her life will be changed forever, and that will have a ripple effect on others as well.  Throughout the narrative of Scripture, God cares about "the one."  Nowhere is this more clear than in Luke 15, when the shepherd leaves the 99 sheep who are with him in order to go and seek out the one who is lost.  My goal is to look for the one and to introduce her to the Shepherd.  He'll take it from there.

5.  Jesus is able to transform these lives just as readily as He was able to transform mine.

As I so often tell these ladies, the only difference between me and them is that I know Jesus.  This Son of Man Who met the legalistic Saul, a man who killed thinking he was offering service to God, and transformed him into Paul, an apostle to be emulated and the writer of half our New Testament, is the same Christ Who met me in the filthy mire of my own iniquity and changed me into a daughter over whom He rejoices.  If this same Jesus can turn the uneducated and cowardly Peter of the High Priest's courtyard into the bold and articulate spokesman of His Truth of Pentecost, He can certainly turn a woman of the night into a Princess of the King.

The Spirit of Jesus has a way of changing lives.  And it's really cool to watch it, even when the process sometimes has its ups and downs.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

There's No Such Thing as Karma

Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised:

I recently had the joy of being able to share the Gospel with a young lady named “Kat” (read on for her story).  She is one of a very few people whom I have met that seems to have real interest in Jesus, and she even asked to attend a church service with me when she has time off work.  It is exciting to see how the Father is pursuing her!

Prayer Necessities:

1.  Please be in prayer for me to have wisdom to know how to use my time.  There are so many ways my time could be spent in ministry, but I want to hear His voice and obey it, doing only what He tells me to do.  Please pray that I would walk in the Spirit at all times and would know what to do each day.

2.  Please pray for me as I teach science to a group of kids at The Well for the next couple of months during their summer break from school.  We do science experiments and learn related Bible stories (for example, we made a rainbow from different colored liquids of varying densities to illustrate the story of Noah, the flood, and God's promise of a rainbow).  Pray that I would communicate the stories well and that the kids would get a clear picture of God and His plan of salvation through the lessons.

The kids preparing to make rainbows

The best rainbow of the bunch!

3.  Lift up Kat and the time that I get to spend with her (read her story below).  Pray that her heart would be open to receive salvation and that her eyes would be opened to the Truth.

Inquiring Minds Wanna Know:

I frequently hear Americans – and even American Christians – talk about “karma.”  There are all kinds of humorous pictures and videos posted on Facebook in reference to how this or that person who has done something “bad” will get their comeuppance in some sort of appropriate way.  For example, there’s a video of a man who moves a cat from a chair in a none-too-gentle way, grabbing it by the scruff of the neck and then giving it a shove with his foot.  He then proceeds to sit in the chair previously occupied by the cat, which happens to be just underneath the stairs.  The cat, in its hurry to get away from the man, bounds up the stairs and inadvertently knocks a plant right onto the man’s head.  “Oh, ha ha!” say many of the comments.  “Instant karma.”

Karma is a Hindu concept, but it’s deeply engrained in Thai culture as well, since Thai Buddhism is heavily influenced by Hinduism.  Essentially, the idea of karma is that every evil you’ve ever done is repaid to you by the universe in some fashion.  Nothing is ever forgotten, everything must be paid for, and you are the only one who can pay for it.

Can you see how this is in direct opposition to the Gospel?  The part of the concept of karma that is true is that every evil must be repaid.  However, it is not some nebulous “universe” that demands repayment but by a holy God Who is the very one who defined what is good and what is evil.  And it is not repaid directly to us if we have chosen to believe in Christ but is instead repaid by the Son of God Himself.  That is the very essence of the Gospel, that we don’t have to pay our sin debt for ourselves because we could never repay it!

So why is it that even Christians laughingly throw about the term “karma” as if it were a joking matter?  It’s not.  It’s pure falsehood from an evil enemy, lies that keep billions of people trapped in a bondage that tells them they can never escape from their own wickedness and that everything that happens to them – from sickness to financial problems to injustices done to them by others – is the result of their own evil deeds and is merely something to be passively accepted because it can never be changed.

I realize that, in America, we don’t have much knowledge of Hinduism or of Thai Buddhism.  Perhaps you never even knew this is what karma meant or the implications of it.  But, please, my friends, I beg of you:  Don’t throw around the word “karma” as though it were something true.  There is no such thing as karma.  There is only a Sovereign God Who is ultimately in control of the universe He created, and He is long-suffering with those Who rebel against Him.  He is not some vindictive Being out there just waiting for the moment when we do something wrong so that He can let us have it.  He is patient and loving far beyond what we deserve, and He rejoices not in punishment but in lavishing His grace upon sinners.  Let me just give you one example of what He’s really like:

About a month ago, I was involved in an event to women in the red-light areas, which was put on by a local ministry.  We planned a nice dinner at a nearby hotel for weeks.  There was a vast array of excellent food, beautiful roses for each woman, fun games, good music, and a time of testimony by a Thai believer.  We were excited about doing this for our friends, and we told them about it multiple times for a couple of weeks before the event.

Thai believer Joom sharing her testimony
The day arrived, and we went to the hotel to begin setting everything up.  But, as we walked down the street, we were shocked to find all of the bars closed and very few people milling about.  It happened to be a major Buddhist holiday (none of our friends informed us of this when we mentioned the date of our party), and the red-light area bore a shocking resemblance to a ghost town.  It was too late to cancel things, and the hotel had already been paid.  What would we do?

We were reminded of Jesus’ parable of a great banquet that had been prepared for many guests, but they all made excuses not to come.  When the homeowner heard the excuses, he told his servants to bring in the crippled and blind to his banquet.  After that had been done, there was still room, so he told his servants this:

“Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel them to come in, so that my house may be filled.” (Lk. 14:23)

With those words in our minds, we went out and invited as many as we could find to come to our party.  Most turned us down, but we did find a group of seven – three older women, two younger women, three transvestites, all of them free-lance prostitutes – who were willing to come with us.  As this motley crew of Thais and Americans walked down the street to the hotel, one of the younger women with us stopped in front of a restaurant to invite some friends who were sitting on a nearby bench.

As this new friend invited her friends to our party, I heard a Thai voice behind us urging them to go with us:  “These people are Christians.  They want to help you.  You should go with them!”
Needless to say, I was pretty shocked, so I turned around to see that this new voice belonged to a waitress at the restaurant.  Her name was “Kat” and, when I asked her if she was a Christian, she said no but that she had a lot of respect for Christians because they really help people.  The rest of our group continued on to the hotel, but I remained engaged in conversation with this new friend for the next 20 minutes.  She even specifically asked me about Easter, and I was able to explain how Christ came to die for our sins and how His resurrection means that we can have eternal life in Him.  When I said this, she rubbed her arms and said, “I’ve got goosebumps!”

It was tremendously exciting to me to meet someone with real interest in this wonderful news I have to share!  Kat and I made plans to go out for dinner on her next day off from work.  When that day finally came, I met her and one of her friends for dinner, and Kat immediately wanted to know more about Jesus.  So I began at creation and told her the whole story.

I wish I could tell you Kat became a follower of Jesus that day.  She didn’t, but she is still open to hearing more.  And, rather than using some karmic fist to pound her into the ground for her sins, the Sovereign God Who continues to lovingly pursue her used a Buddhist holiday, bar closings, a group of people on a bench, and the previous actions of Christians to be able to bring to her the story of how He took upon Himself that punishment for her sins that she believes can only be repaid through lifetimes of karma and its unmerciful retribution.

That’s the kind of God we serve.  Not only is He long-suffering and unfathomably loving towards sinners, but He also pursues them to the ends of the earth and through miraculously ordained circumstances.

There is no karma.  There is only the One True God Who is ultimately in control of both punishment and forgiveness.

Let’s be certain that we’re proclaiming that truth and not perpetuating the lie.
Me with two of my Bible storying students

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Christmas in Thailand

Great is the LORD... and greatly to be praised:

My national partners at last year's Christmas party
I now have two wonderful Thai women, K and F, who go with me weekly to build relationships in the red-light districts of Bangkok.  We have been going to do outreach for the last two weeks and have already made several new friends.  Tonight, we took two of those new friends to dinner and got to see a few other friends, and we even had some opportunities to talk about spiritual things with those women.  Praise the Lord for K and F, these obedient servants of Christ who are such wonderful answers to your prayers!

Prayer Necessities:

1.  Please be praying for me, K, and F as we do outreach in the red-light areas each Tuesday.  Also, be praying for me and some American friends as we go and do outreach each Wednesday.  Pray that He would grant us opportunities to share Christ and that we would be faithful to make the most of the opportunities.

2.  Please lift up my English student J.  We have been studying Bible stories in English for several weeks now, and I shared the Gospel in its entirety with her this past week.  At one point, she had tears in her eyes as she listened to the story.  While she is not quite ready to follow Christ, she is very interested in learning more.  Please pray that the Lord would continue to work in her heart and would draw her to salvation.

3.  Pray that I would have wisdom to know how best to spend my time, energy, and finances here.  There are so many needs and so many things in which I could be investing, but I want Him to use me in the most efficient ways possible.  Please pray that I would know what those are.

Inquiring Minds Wanna Know:

At this time of year, people often ask me if I'm going home for Christmas.  I actually get that question pretty often from Thais and foreigners alike, and I find it both amusing and odd because I really do consider Bangkok to be my home.  But I do know what they mean by it and so, when I answer no, I'm never really surprised to see their look of pity in return.  That's amusing and odd to me, too, because it certainly doesn't feel like anything that should merit anyone's pity.  I haven't been "home" for Christmas more than once in the last six years... and I wouldn't change that for the world.

My guess is that most of you have never lived in another country, and likely very few of you have even traveled to one.  This is not intended as an insult; even if some of you would like to travel, it's often prohibitively expensive to do so.  I'm well aware of the incredible opportunity I've been given to live overseas, and I assure you that I don't take it for granted.  I can't imagine anything better.  Well, most days anyway. :)

But Christmas is a much different experience in a place like Thailand from what it is back home in the US.  In some ways, that's bad but, believe it or not, in some ways, that's actually a good thing.

So, sit back, enjoy, and let me give you a little taste of Christmas... Thai style.  I'll try not to make you jealous but, let me tell you, you might just want to come to MY home for Christmas next year. :)

Weather:  Nothing says Christmas like 85-degree weather, right? :)  In Bangkok, December is cold season but, let me assure you, "cold" is a relative term.  The average temperatures in the month of December range from a low of 68 to a high of 90.  Are you dreaming of a white Christmas?  Well, forget it.  The only way a white Christmas would happen here is if you went out and bought a snow machine to put in your backyard.

But, see, that doesn't bother me one little bit.  I don't like snow.  Seriously.  Even when I was a kid, and all the other kids were all excited about a snow day out of school, I was always annoyed by it because every snow day just meant we'd have to spend an extra day in school at the end of the year when it was warm and beautiful outside.  Snow is wet and cold, and those are two things this Southern girl does not ever like to be.  I'd rather be indoors during those times of year, huddled around a fire trying to be dry and warm.

Admittedly, Bangkok does take warm weather to an extreme, but it's usually pleasant in late December.  And the palm trees in the yard are a definite improvement over snow.  Score one for a Thai Christmas.

Nativity scenes:  Thailand has 68 million people, but only 0.6% of them are evangelical believers.  Very few know anything about Jesus at all so, as you might imagine, nativity scenes are few and far-between.  The ones that I have seen are typically owned by foreigners.  I do miss them, but they're not all that Biblically accurate anyway (the shepherds and wise men probably weren't there at the same time, for example), so it's not a major loss.  But I'll still call this one a score for an American Christmas. :)

Less commercialism:  Oh, this is major for me.  I am always repulsed by the materialism that is in full-on display in the US at Christmas.  There's too much emphasis on gifts, too much Santa, and too much obligation.  Why exactly do we need to buy gifts for so many people who already have every last thing they need and much of what they could ever possibly want?  It's ridiculous, and I know most of you would agree with me.  Yet we continue to do it.  Why?  

Don't get me wrong:  I like to get gifts, and I like to give them.  I honestly like the latter more than the former, but I like to do it spontaneously.  It's such a great feeling to see something that just jumps out at you as the ideal gift for a friend or loved one and an even better feeling to see their eyes light up when they see it.  But I like to do that whenever I see the perfect gift, whether or not that's in December.  Basically, I just don't like the obligation involved at Christmas.  It's too much pressure, and I often wind up getting some meaningless gift just out of duty.  Because, really, how do you buy the ideal gift for someone who already has everything?  Yeah, that's one Christmas tradition I would just as soon do without.

In Thailand, there's so much less of that.  I won't say there's no materialism because, really, wherever there are stores, there will be materialism.  But none of my friends here EXPECT a gift, nor do I feel obligated to give them one.  Did you hear that?  That was me heaving a huge sigh of relief.  That, my friends, is the sound of freedom.  Score another one for Thailand. :)

Not a holiday:  So, believe it or not, Christmas is not a holiday here, and I mean that in the most literal sense.  Neither December 25 nor any day around it is a day off work for Thai people; it's just like any other day.  All the stores, restaurants, and businesses will be open, and they'll think you're the weird one if you expect them to be closed on that day.  I know, in our American minds, there is just something completely wrong about that, but it's true.  Thailand has begun to act like the Christmas season is a special time because they've been exposed to quite a bit of Western influence, but it's nowhere near as big a deal as the New Year that will be celebrated the following week.

I don't really mind that it's just life as usual around here on December 25.  In some ways, it makes things easier.  If I need to get a taxi to a friend's house on that day, it's just as easy to get one as any other time.  If I forgot something I need to make mashed potatoes, I can just drop into the store and get it.  And the fact that the day is special to me and not to anyone here can sometimes lead into some great spiritual conversations.  Thai people have gotten the little knowledge they have about Christmas from Western movies, which means they think it revolves around Santa Claus and gifts.  I get to use that to springboard into what really makes not just Christmas Day, but EVERY day, special for me.  I get to tell them about the Savior.  I think that might be another score for Thailand. :)

Decorations:  Christmas lights, Christmas lights everywhere!  OK, so not as many as in America, but I do love seeing Christmas lights draped over random bushes and throughout shopping centers in Bangkok.  Additionally, I love cities, and I think big trees sandwiched in among enormous buildings are among the coolest things ever.  And, let me tell you, there are some really fantastic Christmas trees here, like this one outside the Terminal 21 shopping mall:  

Christmas in Bangkok
It's also really fun to see how Thai people decorate their trees.  Thais love to have fun, and they really go all-out in adding whatever they can to a tree.  Just this evening, I went to visit a friend who was decorating the Christmas tree at her shop.  The tree had all kinds of "normal" decorations, like ornaments, lights, and a star, but it also had things I'd never seen before, like little light-up snowmen, cotton "snow," and a giant Santa head hanging from one of the branches.  It had more stuff on it than any tree I'd ever seen, but it had great character.  Just see for yourself:
Christmas tree decorated by a Thai friend

I think we'll have to call this category a toss-up. :)

Food:  I love turkey.  There is very little in life that can beat the goodness that is a freshly carved Butterball.  Thankfully, we can get turkey in Thailand.  It's expensive (predominantly because it's in the stores only to feed the Western expats' demand for their favorite holiday meat), and it's only available in the months of November and part of December, but it is available.  And just knowing that makes me happy.

Of course, because I'm half a world away, I don't spend Christmas with my family.  But I do spend it with other Westerners, most of them other missionaries with my organization.  And, to be Biblically accurate, they're just as much my family as the biological one I have, so it's wonderful to be with them.  We basically have a giant potluck, and it is amazing.  I gorged myself at Thanksgiving just like I do at home, and I plan to repeat the performance at Christmas.  There's nothing that reminds me of my grandmother's house like seeing the spread of turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and pecan pie... among other things.

But, even though the food tastes just as good, I have to give this category to the US because, no matter how much it may look like my grandmother's house, it just isn't the same.  Score one for the homeland. :)

Christmas movies:  I have two movies that it's a necessity for me to watch every Christmas:  "It's a Wonderful Life" and "A Christmas Story."  I have both of them on DVD, so it's no problem to watch them here.  I do, however, miss a few others from back home.  Things like "Miracle on 34th Street" and "Christmas Vacation" are classics and, while I don't have to watch them every Christmas, I'd like to have the option of flipping through some channels on a TV and being able to watch them if I want.

It's also not quite the same to say, "Squirrel!" or "I triple-dog dare ya!" here in Bangkok.  I guess it somehow loses its appeal when, instead of raucous laughter and subsequent quotes from the same movie, the response you get is blank stares instead. :)  Guess I'll have to chalk this one up to the US of A.

So, if you're keeping score at home, that's basically even.  Hopefully, you have a little better understanding of what it's like to be an expatriate living in a country that minimally celebrates what is easily the major holiday back in the United States.  It can be fun, even though there will always be moments of homesickness.  But even that is a reminder of the fact that I am an alien and a stranger on this earth... and will always be until I'm home with my Savior.

Merry Christmas to you all!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Walking the Walk... Together

Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised:

I have been able to spend this week at a very encouraging conference for missionaries involved in ministry to women in the sex industry.  We have shared victories and struggles with one another, and I have learned so much from others who have been involved in this work longer than I have.  It has been so encouraging to hear what the Lord is doing in their lives and to know that I am not alone in this work!

Additionally, I had a wonderful 2-1/2-week vacation in the United States, filled with time with friends and family, speaking at churches, and having lots of fun at the beach.  It was so good to see many of you during that time!

Fun with friends from high school

Lunch with my aunt and her friends

Hanging out with my cousin and his family

Prayer Necessities:

1.  The cell group that I had previously mentioned has, sadly, stopped meeting together.  Please pray for me to have wisdom in knowing how to move forward in starting a new group.

2.  I have recently begun teaching English to a lady who is interested in learning more about Christ.  Our discussions on passages from the book of Genesis have been deep, and she is very open to hearing more.  Please pray that the Lord would reveal His Truth to my new friend, Ja.

3.  Please continue to lift up W and J, my two friends who work in a local dance bar.  Also, pray that my relationships with them would lead to other friendships and opportunities to share Christ in that club.

Inquiring Minds Wanna Know:

As I delve farther into my current ministry, one thing I continue to learn is the prevalence of sexual abuse across all cultures and its far-reaching impact on society.  And even more disturbing than how commonly it occurs in society at large is its prevalence IN THE CHURCH.  Just this week, I have heard the stories of two women from two different Western cultures (one of which was American).  Both of these women were abused at 3-4 years of age by men who were their relatives, and both of those men were leaders in their churches.

It is estimated that anywhere from 10 – 30% of children in the United States have been sexually abused.  Considering that sexual abuse is grossly underreported, I think it’s safe to assume there are even more kids who live through that kind of trauma.  It’s a horrifying statistic that should disgust us.

You know what should disgust us even more?  The fact that it is frequently those belonging to the body of Christ who are perpetrating these crimes against children.

Don’t make the mistake of latching onto the Catholic priest scandal and thinking that evangelical churches are somehow exempt from this kind of horrific sin.  Both of the women I mentioned above were abused by men in Protestant churches, and I know of MANY others with similar experiences.  Remember, sin thrives in the dark.  Very few of the victims report it because of the likelihood they won’t be believed.  What kind of weight does a child’s word carry against that of a well-respected church member?

Sexual immorality, in a variety of forms, is rampant in the church today.  You name the sexual sin, and the church has experienced it.  And, in some tragic cases, the church has overlooked it and, worse, even condoned it.  How the Lord must be grieved with this indeed.

Pornography is an absolute epidemic in Western cultures, with an ever-increasing prevalence due to ease of access to it via electronic media.  Nearly 90% of young men aged 18-26, and 30% of young women in the same age range, have reported using pornography.  Considering the fact that pornography is a gateway that leads to a variety of sexually immoral and/or deviant behavior, including sexual assault, this is a truly terrifying statistic.  However, the utterly shameful fact is that the church has maintained its purity in this area only somewhat better than the world.

And, friends, the world is not trying to maintain its purity.

OK, folks, my point is not to make us defensive.  Don’t think, “Oh, but that doesn’t happen in MY church.”  The reality is that it very likely is – and, just maybe, among those you would least suspect.  And don’t think, “Oh, but those people probably aren’t real Christians.”  Some might not be, but many probably are.

The reality is that it is possible for us to walk in victory over sin, even sins that we have struggled with for some time.  We can do that because the almighty power of the risen Christ dwells within us and enables us to overcome sin.  That’s the Gospel in all its beautiful, miraculous, astounding, filthy-sinner-to-righteous-saint glory!  We no longer HAVE to sin.  We really do have a choice not to, something that we didn’t really have before when we were utterly enslaved to it.  Praise be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

But whether or not we ARE walking in victory over sin is an entirely different story because there’s a lot that goes into achieving it.  And most of it involves the fellowship and community that we have with other believers.

The choice to commit adultery or to sexually abuse a child or to engage in any other sin that we think of as something big doesn’t start right there.  No one gets up in the morning and just thinks out of the blue, “Oh, you know what?  I’m going to go out and cheat on my husband today.”  It’s actually a pretty gradual descent into wickedness, a “drifting away” as the book of Hebrews calls it, one that starts – and can most easily be stopped – much earlier.  By the time a believer has achieved the mindset that will lead him (or her) into adultery or sexual abuse, he (or she) has been edging down that road for a while.

Years ago, I heard a Casting Crowns song that describes this process very well:

“It’s a slow fade when you give yourself away,
It’s a slow fade when black and white have turned to gray.
And thoughts invade, choices made,
A price will be paid when you give yourself away.
People never crumble in a day,
It’s a slow fade. 
It’s a slow fade.”

What’s my point?  Just this.  We, as the church, have to respond to sin in our midst in a Biblical fashion.  It is our privilege and our responsibility to walk together with one another through this journey of life, helping one another to avoid and overcome sin, and we desperately need to embrace that role in each other’s lives.  But, right now, most of us are doing a really awful job of it.

So what should we do to improve?  Interestingly enough, we just have to obey what the Bible tells us to do.
     1.       Encourage each other.

“But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” (Heb. 3:13)

Ask yourself how often you encourage a brother or sister, and be honest in your answer.  I will be honest with you and admit that I am terrible at it.  I am quick to criticize others but very lax about telling them how I see the Lord at work in their lives.  But a hyper-critical environment in the body doesn’t make the atmosphere very conducive for #2 to occur on a regular basis.

      2.       Confess our sins to other believers.

“…confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”  (James 5:16)

How frequently do you do this?  This is one of the most glaring weaknesses I see in the church today.  We all put on a face the moment we get around other believers.  We say the sweetest things to one another, even as we know full well that we cursed out another driver not five minutes earlier.

Let me tell you something:  I’m tired of the fa├žade.  It’s so much easier to be real about my struggles than it is to pretend they’re not there.  The real questions are these:  Am I willing to humble myself enough to be real with my brothers and sisters?  And are my brothers and sisters willing to refuse to condemn me and instead to forgive me and love me with open arms?  When both of us are willing to do that, I think you would see a revolutionized church.

Are you willing to be the person who confesses your sins?  Am I?

     3.       Help a repentant believer to walk in purity while avoiding the same temptations.

“…if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this:  Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” (James 5:19-20)

“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spiritshould restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.” (Gal. 6:1)

Now we’re getting into the nitty-gritty of the Christian walk.  This is hard stuff.  Have you ever walked alongside a believer through his struggles with addiction, with pornography, with overeating?  Oh, yeah, I just hit us all in the gut with that last one, didn’t I (no pun intended)? J  Helping each other stay on the way of the righteous is hard work, and it will involve setbacks.  It’s constantly two steps forward and one step back because none of us have arrived. 

Are you willing to walk that road with me?  Am I willing to walk it with you?

     4.       Boldly confront a brother who is in sin, and follow through on the steps of church discipline.

If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.  But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’  If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” (Matt. 18:15-17)

To return to the subject that started this blog, sexual immorality is not a new problem.  It was a problem in the Corinthian church, too – so much so, in fact, that Paul had to harshly chastise that body of believers for allowing a man who was involved with his father’s wife to remain among them.  They were even proud of their own tolerance toward this guy!  But Paul quickly set them straight:

“You are so proud of yourselves, but you should be mourning in sorrow and shame.  And you should remove this man from your fellowship.” (1 Cor. 5:2)

Paul went on to warn them that this sin that they had allowed to remain within the body would become like yeast spreading through to infect the entire church.  He then explained that they were to respond to sin among those who claim to believers in this way:

“…you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people.  Don’t even eat with such people.” (1 Cor. 5:11)

If that ultimate step of church discipline seems harsh, that’s probably because it is.  Ostracism from the body of Christ is a last resort that is reserved only for the unrepentant.  But, just like every other step in the list Jesus prescribed in Matthew 18, its goal is to encourage repentance.  God's motives in regards to us are never for evil but only for our good and for our restoration to Him and to His family.

Do you remember the next chapter in that story of the Corinthian church and their battle against sexual immorality?  They obeyed Paul’s instructions and threw the immoral believer out of their church.  And then?  Well, the guy repented and was ultimately restored to fellowship within the body (or, at least, Paul instructed them to restore him, and my assumption is that they obeyed).

My friends, we have to be willing to walk along these hard roads with one another as well.  Christians are still broken people who are tempted often.  We have to help each other to stay on the narrow path that leads to life.  No one can do it alone, and it’s a tremendous blight on the church that we seem to think we can and should.  With the prevalence of sexual depravity among us, do we really think that mindset is working? 

I think maybe it’s long past time for us to do what the Word tells us we should be doing all along.